When people think of palliative care, many think of end-of-life scenarios. And while this can be the case, it can also help anyone diagnosed with a chronic, serious illness.

HHSC’s newly launched Palliative Care Education and Information Program — the result of 2015’s House Bill 1874 — educates Texans about palliative care: what it is, who can use it and who can be helped by it. The legislation parallels similar legislation in other states.

“The legislature wanted to address some of the misconceptions around palliative care,” Jimmy Blanton, director of HHSC’s Health Quality Institute in the Quality and Program Improvement section, said. “It’s not just end-of-life care, although it does include an end-of-life component. And it’s not just for the patient — it’s also for the family and other loved ones. It’s an additional layer of support from the pain and stress associated with serious illness.”

There are two types of palliative care — hospice and supportive. The first is the type many people are familiar with. It’s used at the end of life when further therapy is either no longer effective or not desired, or the patient or family member does not want to pursue further therapy.

The second, supportive palliative care, focuses on pain and comfort level, while at the same time allowing other disease interventions, such as attempts at a cure or remission. To cover the full range of physical, emotional and spiritual needs of a patient and family, this care is typically provided by an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains and other supportive specialists.

Blanton said that in either case, palliative care is most effective when started early in the progression of disease and can extend the length of a life and improve its quality. His office hopes that by educating people about it, it will become a useful tool.

In addition to improving quality of life, palliative care can lower health care costs associated with the end of life.

“Home hospice is less expensive than acute care,” he said. “Certainly that’s not the main consideration but it is a real one.”

The program recently launched an online resource for patients and providers with information about supportive palliative care and hospice care. For more information about the program, visit the HHS Palliative Care website.