Palliative Care vs. HospicePalliative Care vs. Hospice

While many people understand the term hospice as care and comfort for a person nearing the end of his or her life, hospice care also shares a common bond with the increasingly popular approach of palliative care. Palliative care is a holistic approach to helping a person reduce pain, stress, and the symptoms associated with an illness or disease, regardless of the overall prognosis and timeline.

Palliative care adds an additional layer of care to your medical treatment, with a full team of specialists working with your primary care physician to:

  • Facilitate pain and symptom control, both physical and psychological
  • Improve coordination and communication, including setting goals, helping with decision-making, and scheduling of care
  • Support emotional and spiritual wellbeing
  • Assist family and caregivers

In many countries, hospice and palliative care mean the same thing: reducing the pain, suffering, and stress related to a particular disease. In the United States, however, hospice specifically refers to an end-of-life timeframe, whereas palliative care is not dependent on time or stage of disease.

The term “palliative care” began in the hospice movement, and today represents a multi-disciplinary approach to improving the quality of life for a patient suffering from a serious illness, regardless of the stage or potential progression of the disease. Whether the disease is viewed as curable or must be endured for a longer timeframe, palliative care takes a whole-person approach to reducing the stress and pain in the patient’s life.

The palliative care team often consists of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals, as well as chaplains, social workers, psychologists, and other allied health professionals. Today more than 55% of hospitals with 100 beds or more offer a palliative care program, and most insurance companies cover part or all of the costs of the treatment.

Unlike hospice, palliative care can be used in conjunction with or without curative measures; the focus remains on reducing the stress and pain involved in living with the illness regardless of length of time. Hospice, conversely, is only activated when there are no other options for curing the disease or when existing options are not likely to be successful, or are too arduous for the patient. In the United States, to activate the Medicare Hospice Benefit, two physicians must certify that a patient has less than six months to live if the disease follows its usual course.

Hospice care does follow many of the same approaches to supporting the patient as palliative care does. Special attention is paid to making the patient feel as comfortable as possible, both physically and emotionally, and ensuring alignment between a team of supportive professionals.

For more information, visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s website.

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.


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