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What Is Palliative Care? Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: Nov 1

Many caregivers have a hard time understanding the difference between palliative and hospice care. They don’t realize that palliative care is often a step prior to hospice that can also help improve the lives of patients dealing with serious illnesses, while still pursuing curative treatment. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding palliative care and the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis’ (VNA) Advanced Illness Management (AIM) home-based palliative care program.


What is palliative care?


Palliative care is aimed at symptom relief for people living with serious illness. All palliative care providers focus on relieving the burden of symptoms when the body’s health is out of balance.


What is the difference between hospice care and palliative care?


Palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment. The focus of palliative care is on relieving symptoms, stress and pain with a goal to enhance recovery. Hospice’s focus is on relieving symptoms, stress and pain at the end of life.


When does a patient transition from palliative care to hospice care?


When the management of serious chronic illnesses reaches the point at which the treatments are minimally effective in controlling symptoms, transition to hospice care becomes the best option. Patients who enter hospice are expected to live only six months or less, though many live much longer because of the extra care and attention they receive on hospice.


Does a patient have to stop aggressive treatment for their medical conditions under palliative care?


No. Under the VNA’s AIM program, a person can continue aggressive medical interventions.


Does AIM differ from palliative care?


No. AIM is the name for VNA’s palliative care program.


How long can a patient stay in AIM?


As long as the patient’s medical condition remains fragile, they can stay in the AIM program. A few patients will “graduate” from AIM if their medical status improves significantly.


Does AIM manage non-cancer-related chronic pain?


Not usually. Most non-cancer-related chronic pain involves chronic opioid therapy, and we are not equipped to properly manage this in the home.


How do I know if a patient is right for AIM?


Seniors and people with chronic illnesses should ask themselves these questions and, if they answer “yes”, they should consider the AIM home-based palliative care program:

  • Do they have a life limiting, progressive chronic Illness(es)?

  • Are they homebound or having difficulty getting to an office-based provider?

  • Have they been in and out of the hospital or emergency room due to uncontrolled symptoms of a chronic Illness?

  • Does the patient or family have a desire to prevent hospitalization and emergency room visits or improve symptom management?


What can I expect from the AIM team?


VNA has a history of over 100 years of service in the St. Louis Community. Their experienced team of providers including MDs, Nurse Practitioners, Social Workers, Spiritual Counselors and Volunteers will manage serious conditions in the patient’s place of residence. They are a specialty team that coordinates care with the patient’s primary providers to give an additional layer of support. Patient-centered care is provided with the patient and caregivers’ goals as our priority, regardless of the trajectory of illness.



For more information regarding the AIM program, visit https://www.vnastl.com/aim-information, where you can download the brochure and see additional frequently asked questions.

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