Understanding the Difference Between Palliative and Hospice Care

Palliative and Hospice CarePalliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.  Palliative care has been a board-certified medical specialty since 2006 in the United States.   It includes treating symptoms like pain, nausea, or sleep problems. But it can also include helping you and your loved ones to: understand your illness better; talk more openly about your feelings; decide what treatment you want or don’t want; and, communicate better with your doctors, nurses, and each other.

Hospice is a type of palliative care designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families when a life-limiting illness no longer responds to cure-oriented treatments. Hospice care neither prolongs life nor hastens death. The objective of both hospice and palliative care is pain and symptom relief.

Possible different goals.

Hospice is comfort care without curative intent; the patient no longer has curative options or has chosen not to pursue treatment because the side effects outweigh the benefits. Palliative care is comfort care with or without curative intent.

Where the services are rendered.

Generally, once enrolled through a referral from the primary care physician, a patient’s hospice care program, which is overseen by a team of hospice professionals, is administered in the home. Hospice often relies upon the family caregiver, as well as a visiting hospice nurse. While hospice can provide round-the-clock care in a nursing home, a specially equipped hospice facility, or, on occasion, in a hospital, this is not the norm.

Palliative care teams are made up of doctors, nurses, and other professional medical caregivers, often at the facility where a patient will first receive treatment. These individuals will administer or oversee most of the ongoing comfort-care patients receive. While palliative care can be administered in the home, it is most common to receive palliative care in an institution such as a hospital, extended care facility, or nursing home that is associated with a palliative care team.

When such services are provided.

In order to receive hospice care, you must generally be considered to be terminal or within six months of death to be eligible for most hospice programs or to receive hospice benefits from your insurance. There are no time restrictions as to when palliative care may be requested. Palliative care can be received by patients at any time, at any stage of illness and do not have to be near death.

If you became unable to direct your own medical care because of illness, legal documents such as a Health Care Power of Attorney or Advance Directive can set forth your wishes for future health care so your family members are all clear on your preferences.  However, if you or a loved one is suffering from a serious illness, seek out a consultation with your physician to learn more about these types of treatments.