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Palliative Care vs. Hospice: Know the Difference

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Facing a life-limiting illness or end of life care can bring up a lot of challenging conversations for families, as well as difficult decisions surrounding how to support a loved one’s comfort, quality of life and dignity. 

One reassuring step is to understand the difference between palliative care and hospice. These two approaches have similarities but are appropriate for different health and life circumstances. 

We’re here to clear up the confusion about palliative care vs. hospice and explain how they may help your family if someone that you love is facing a serious or incurable disease. 

The Similarity Between Hospice and Palliative Care

Palliative care and hospice are very similar when it comes to caring for a loved one who is facing an incurable or life-limiting illness.

Where palliative care is different from hospice is in the care location, timing, payment and eligibility for services.

Palliative Care Explained

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of that illness. 

The goal is to improve your quality of life and that of your family. Palliative care can be provided to people at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and alongside curative treatment.

How Palliative Care Differs From Hospice 

While both palliative care and hospice provide pain and symptom relief, the reasons tend to be different. 

Hospice, which is sometimes called end-of-life care, offers comfort care without trying to cure your condition, either because you’ve exhausted all treatment options, or you've decided to stop treatment. 

Palliative care, on the other hand, provides comfort care with or without the intention to cure you. It helps guides you and your loved ones along the journey. 

In sum, hospice patients are facing end-of-life situations, while palliative care patients may be dealing with a serious, but ultimately curable, condition.

Hospice patients don’t receive treatment for their illness because they've reached the end stage of life, while palliative care patients may not be considered terminal and may still find benefits from curative treatment.

Where Patients Receive Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

Hospice care is provided wherever you are, including hospice care at home, in hospice residences (where available), nursing homes, assisted living facilities, veterans' facilities and in hospitals. 

Palliative care teams typically work in hospitals but at home palliative care is sometimes an option.

A Palliative Care Team vs. Hospice Care Team 

Both palliative care and hospice are provided by teams made up of diverse specialists who support your family members’ whole well-being. In both models of care, the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of both you and your family are attended to by a physician-directed and nurse-coordinated team, along with the daily caregiving offered by loved ones.

The hospice care team includes a physician and nurse, as well as a social worker, non-denominational chaplain, certified nursing assistant, trained volunteer and bereavement counselor. This team can travel to your family, whether it's at home, in a nursing home or assisted living facility or hospital. 

The palliative care team (usually hospital-based) includes palliative care doctors, nurses, social workers and others who work together with a patient’s other physicians to provide extra support. 

Payment of Palliative Care vs. Hospice  

Hospice is usually paid 100% by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. This Medicare benefit includes medications, equipment, access to care, nursing, social services, chaplain visits, grief support following a death, as well as other services.

Palliative care, on the other hand, is paid for by insurance, individually or sometimes by a charity or nonprofit organization.

Eligibility for Palliative Care vs. Hospice 

To be eligible for the Medicare hospice benefit, you must have two physicians certify that your life expectancy is less than six months if the disease follows its usual course.

Palliative care is begun at your and your physician’s discretion at any time and at any stage of illness, terminal or not.

If you or your family member is facing a serious disease or end of life decisions, have a trusted medical guide who can provide the information and support you need to make vital decisions and feel cared for along your journey in body, mind and spirit. 

You can find that here, with us. Learn more about our whole-person hospice and palliative care

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