Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

What, actually, is Palliative Care? And how is it different from Hospice care?

Palliative Care and Hospice are two different things.


In the United States, Hospice has been around since the 1970s. People go on Hospice Care when it's determined that they have 6 months or less to live. Hospice is a time where we hope the dying and their families/friends can settle into a new routine and spend time doing the things that mattered most to them. In Hospice, we're not focused on a 'cure'—we're focused on comfort and quality of life with the time that's left.

Palliative Care is different. People of any age with serious illnesses (like ALS, COPD, CHF, Cancer, etc.) can receive palliative care. It's a multidisciplinary plan of treatment that focuses on easing symptoms (like pain, constipation, fatigue, etc.) and you can get Palliative Care while also receiving treatments (like chemotherapy) which hope to bring a 'cure' to your illness. (I'm using the term 'cure' loosely here, but you get the gist.) Palliative Care's goal, from my view, is to get you as close as we can to a normal day-to-day life while you are coping with a serious illness and serious side-effects and symptoms.

Hospice Care also focuses on quality of life (just like Palliative Care) but when on hospice, the prognosis is that there may not be any more treatment options, or in some cases your body can't take any other treatments so they are not an option. Also, the dying person may have made the choice to stop all treatments. So, on Hospice, we are not looking to 'cure' you—we are looking to give you a good quality of life with the time you have left. In Palliative Care, the 'cure' piece is still there.

Also, it's worth noting that you don't have to have cancer to be on Hospice. There is a misconception floating around that you have to have end-stage cancer in order to receive Hospice Care. Not true, you can receive Hospice if it is determined you have 6 months or less to life. {Note: the 6 month designation originated from Medicare and how Medicare defines when a hospice benefit can kick in.}

To expand on this even further, you can receive Palliative Care at any age....and even at multiple times through your life.

With Hospice, you can receive it at any age, but we generally only receive that one time—at the end of life. 

Finally, there's something else that Hospice and Palliative Care have in common: they are both team efforts. A Palliative Care team is made up of doctors, nurses, specialists, the patient, family/friends, volunteers and more. So too is a Hospice team. 

Here's a link to a PDF which explains the Hospice Benefit through Medicare.

Here's a link to a website with more information about Palliative Care. 

Cole Imperi, CTComment