Advance with MUSC Health

Ask a Palliative Care Expert: Your Questions Answered by MUSC Palliative Care Specialists

Advance With MUSC Health
November 10, 2023
Palliative care experts at MUSC Children’s Health Jessica Bullington, right, and Christina McDaniel, left.
Left to right: Christina McDaniel, DNP, RN and Jessica Bullington, RN.

For National Hospice & Palliative Care Awareness Month, we reached out to you for questions about hospice and palliative care. Jessica Bullington, RN, and Christina McDaniel, DNP, RN, two of our palliative care experts at MUSC Children's Health, answered! Here, they address those questions and explain the difference between hospice and palliative care.

Q: What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?

A: Many people ask us "What's the difference between hospice and palliative care?" The easiest way to think about it is that palliative care is appropriate at any age and any stage of serious illness. It is a care model that can be delivered alongside curative treatment to help manage symptoms and quality of life. Hospice is when we've entered the terminal phase of that illness, and we work in collaboration with the patient and the family to honor what's important to that patient and make sure that their symptoms are managed.

Q: Is palliative care only available in the hospital?

A: No, it's not. You can also see a palliative provider in a clinic, or you can have someone come to your home to see you and provide that level of care. There are many different options now with technology, we have the option to see patients over video visits, which you may have heard it referred to as telehealth.

Q: When does someone need palliative care?

A: There are many reasons why patients may request for palliative care to become part of their team. Palliative care collaborates with specialists who focus on the disease management of things like heart disease, lung and kidney disease, or cancer. Palliative care wants to come alongside and really empower patients and families to become the captains of their own health care ship.

Q: What do MUSC palliative care volunteers do?

A: Our wonderful volunteer department at MUSC onboards many volunteers for the hospital, including for palliative care. Our palliative care volunteers have many jobs on the team. They do supportive visits to patients and families, they do end-of-life vigils for any patients who might be dying alone in the hospital, and they also provide complementary therapies to help with symptom management. The modalities that we have on our team include Reiki, acupuncture and massage

Q: What makes MUSC palliative teams unique?

A: What makes palliative care teams unique is that patients and families are not just being seen by medical providers. The patients are also being supported by dedicated social workers, chaplains, volunteers and even bereavement specialists. What this means for families is that someone is attending to their medical needs as well as the psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of their care.

Q: Should I be worried if my doctor recommends palliative care?

A: It is not uncommon for patients to feel afraid when they hear palliative care when actually that could not be further from the truth. Palliative care is there to support people with serious illnesses. Anyone living with a serious illness deserves palliative care, and we work alongside the specialists who are guiding your treatments. Our goal is to manage symptoms that are associated with your illness, as well as the side effects of any treatments that you may be receiving.

Q: Do pediatric patients ever receive palliative care?

A: There are many reasons that a pediatric patient may need a palliative care team involved in their care. Many times, we're getting involved with these patients and families before the patient is even born. This helps us to walk alongside the families when important decisions are being made.

Q: My family member has dementia; how could they be seen by palliative care at MUSC?

A: Palliative care can help support both that patient and their family so they would get referred to our clinic. You could check with the specialist taking care of that illness process; in this case, it would probably be a neurologist. You can also ask your family provider or your primary care provider for a referral for palliative care. Another way is to go to our website. If you need to self-refer, there's information under the outpatient tab on how you can self-refer.

Q: What are some resources for patients and families to learn more about palliative care?

A: For patients and families wanting more information on palliative care, there are a lot of resources on the Internet. One is that you can go to our MUSC Palliative Care website, where you can find information on our inpatient, outpatient and telehealth services. Another website is Get Palliative Care, and at that website, you can find tools that will tell you more about palliative care, help you determine if it's right for you, and also help you find a provider in your area.

Q: Does palliative care ever help with advanced directives?

A: Palliative care team members can help anyone fill out an advanced directive, whether that's one of our medical providers, social workers, or even our chaplains. Anyone over the age of 18 should be considering filling out an advanced directive.

You do not have to have a serious illness or be an older person to require an advanced directive. Anyone should fill out this document and have it on file for their families. If you're not sure where to get started, there's a great website called The Conversation Project that has lots of resources to help you learn more about advanced care planning.

Learn more about our palliative services:

Jessica Bullington is a Palliative Care Program specialist, while Christina McDaniel is the Palliative Care Program manager at MUSC Children’s Health. Their work is patient-centered and family-engaged, focusing on enhancing the quality of life by anticipating, preventing and treating suffering.

Our palliative care experts are here to care for those with serious illnesses and their families. Visit the Palliative Care Program website to learn more or call 843-792-1414 to schedule an appointment.