What’s the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice?

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. The sponsor, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, encourages people to “increase their knowledge about person-centered, holistic care for all individuals facing serious and life-limiting illness, discuss their health care wishes with those they care about, and mark this month with appropriate learning and sharing.”

To do our part, we’d like to explain the differences between hospice and palliative care. Part of our expertise as Aging Life Care Professionals® is guiding clients and their loved ones through all phases of aging well, including these. We can answer your questions and provide referrals to the appropriate services if and when you need them.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is available for patients whose conditions are life threatening, but may also be chronic or curable. Patients can be at any stage of a disease or illness. The goal is to relieve suffering and improve the patient’s overall quality of life. Examples of conditions that might be relieved by palliative care include congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and different types of cancers.

The main difference that sets palliative care apart from hospice is that this care is available for patients who are not necessarily terminally ill. Hospice is a type of palliative care focused on people with who have less than six months to live. Hospice always falls under the category of palliative care, but palliative care isn’t necessarily hospice care. Medicare helps cover the cost of both hospice and palliative care. Palliative care in the home is billed to Medicare Part B, whereas hospice care is typically billed to Medicare Part A.

What is hospice?

Hospice services are designed to care for a person whose condition limits the length of their life. These services are supportive of the patient, caregivers, and their families. The goal is to address not only the physical needs, but also the social, emotional, and spiritual needs of the individual. Medicare as well as most other health insurance plans provide a hospice benefit.

This service can be provided in the patient’s home, allowing them to face the end of life in their own home, or in the facility where they live. The focus of hospice care is to manage pain and minimize symptoms to improve comfort as much as possible for the duration of the person’s life. The guiding principle is that quality of life is just as important as the length of life.

When is hospice the right choice?

Providing care for a seriously ill family member can place an emotional, financial and physical burden on the family. Hospice provides the support needed so the patient can maintain grace and dignity in the final stages of life and family members can have the support they need. Hospice service is often recommended when:

  • Curative treatments are no longer effective or a cure for the disease is not available.
  • Potential treatments are offered with the goal of extending life, but the patient may see the side effects of treatment as worse than the condition itself.
  • The patient has uncontrolled pain.
  • Families desire to keep the person at home instead of transferring them to a hospital or nursing home.

Choosing palliative or hospice care can be difficult for family members during what is already a stressful time. Please contact us if you’d like more information.