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Hospice & Palliative Care
You may think these terms are interchangeable, but here are the differences between them.

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When facing a serious or terminal illness, dealing with the physical and emotional effects of the illness or treatment can be very difficult for a patient, as well as caregivers and loved ones. In addition to physically stressing a patient’s body, ongoing health issues can affect the mental and spiritual wellness of everyone within the patient’s circle of care.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a tough medical challenge, hospice or palliative care may have been recommended as an option. It’s common to get these terms mixed up since they are both compassionate care options intended to offer comfort and assistance to a patient and the patient’s family when facing serious illness. But there are also significant differences between the two.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is intended for a patient with a serious illness or chronic disease that is not yet considered to be life-ending. Palliative services are offered in conjunction with regular medical treatments. For instance, a cancer patient with a palliative care team might also be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and taking medications to ease the side effects.

Palliative care can address many patient concerns, including:

  • Physical effects such as pain, difficulty sleeping, nausea, shortness of breath
  • Management of medications and nutrition plans
  • Financial counseling
  • Transportation or housing issues
  • Emotional and social effects on the patient and family, including stress, fear, anxiety and depression

Depending on a patient’s needs, palliative care teams might include doctors, nurses, dietitians, psychologists, massage therapists, social workers and spiritual counselors. Palliative care programs may be available through hospitals, cancer treatment centers, long-term care centers and agencies that offer in-home care.

Hospice Care

Hospice care includes most of the same elements as palliative care meant to comfort the patient and the patient’s family. The difference is that hospice care is used once an illness or disease is determined to be fatal. When a doctor believes a patient has 6 months or less to live, or that ongoing medical treatment will not provide benefits, they may refer a patient to hospice care. Hospice is not a place; it’s a philosophy of care.

Although a hospice care team helps the patient and the family deal with many of the same issues as a palliative care team, regular medical treatments are stopped. For instance, a cancer patient would not be undergoing chemotherapy or radiation while in hospice care. The goal of hospice care is to keep the patient as comfortable and as pain-free as possible until the end. Most programs also offer grief counseling for family members. There are some dedicated hospice centers, but they are mainly for patients who cannot be managed at home.

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Date Last Reviewed: September 17, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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