Palliative Care and Hospice Care: Everything You Need to Know
When it comes to serious illnesses and terminal diagnoses, the choices for treatment and care can be overwhelming. If you’re researching options for a loved one, you might be confused by the terms "palliative care" and "hospice care" because both are associated with comfort and pain management. However, there are subtle differences between the two that are worth considering when determining which will be the best fit.
What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is medical care provided to someone with a serious, life-threatening or terminal illness that isn't intended to provide curative treatment but instead to manage symptoms, relieve pain and improve quality of life. It's important to note that an individual does not need a terminal diagnosis in order to receive palliative care. In addition to their work with chronically ill individuals, palliative care providers also provide support services to family members. Most palliative care is provided in hospitals or doctors’ offices.
What Is Hospice Care?
Hospice care is a direct effort to ease the emotional and physical pain of those with terminal diagnoses. Specifically, hospice providers provide pain management, counseling, and comfort to care recipients and their family members. Hospice care continues until the end of life and can be provided in a facility or in a private home, depending on the recipient’s wishes and circumstances. It's worth noting that hospice care is covered under insurance. However, room and board in a hospice home or nursing home is generally private pay.
What's the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?
Palliative care and hospice care are two somewhat similar options, but with several important differences to consider.
Palliative care is often recommended for someone newly diagnosed with a severe illness in order to reduce the physical, mental, and emotional burdens associated with the condition. Palliative care is used to treat number of ailments that coincide with the original diagnosis, such as depression, nausea, pain, and insomnia. This type of care can be used simultaneously with treatment geared towards reversing or curing the illness in an effort to extend and improve life.
Hospice care is a type of palliative care -- in that it helps ease a person's pain and discomfort -- but it is specifically designed for those who have a progressive or terminal illness. Pain relief and basic medical support in hospice care can help improve the conditions a person experiences once all curative treatments have been discontinued. This type of care is designed to give the care recipients (and their families) dignity and comfort, as well as emotional and spiritual support after receiving a terminal diagnosis.
Palliative care and hospice care also differ in terms of cost coverage and where care is provided. Costs for both types of care will vary based on individual insurance plans, so it’s important to check with your provider to ensure that you're aware of what services are covered. Palliative care is usually provided in a doctor’s office or hospital, whereas hospice care is usually provided where the individual resides—i.e. in the comfort of a home, a nursing home, or a hospice home.
What Are the Similarities Between Hospice Care and Palliative Care?
While there are differences between the two, palliative and hospice care have several very important similarities. First and foremost, palliative care and hospice care are very holistic; in addition to ongoing medical care from doctors and nurses, care recipients and their families also receive access to counseling, social services, and other support services designed to assist with the progression of the illness.
Palliative and hospice care are both helpful for those with serious illness. Managing pain, addressing fears and emotions, and maintaining a sense of control are the hallmarks for both palliative care and hospice care.
Jody Gastfriend, vice president of senior care at Care.com, discusses the choices of hospice and palliative care in her book My Parent’s Keeper. She mentions daughter, Reena, who chose to keep her mother, Esther, at home with hospice care at the end of her life.
"People are often confused about the difference between hospice and palliative care. Like hospice, palliative care offers an interdisciplinary approach of symptom management administered through a single program. Unlike hospice, however, palliative care is available to anyone who has a serious illness, not just the terminally ill. It is the bridge between acute medical treatment and end of life hospice care. Hospice relies heavily on family caregivers in the home, like Reena, whereas palliative care is typically delivered by doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in hospitals and healthcare institutions. Opting for hospice care means foregoing aggressive curative treatment, a decision Esther eventually made. She wanted to spend her remaining time enjoying what mattered most: her children and grandchildren. Reena decided it was best to take her mother home, to her house, surrounded by the chaos of children, a ten-year-old Rottweiler, a pet hamster named Skippy, and a whole lot of love.”
If you're interested in learning more about your options, consider speaking with your doctor or health care team if you are interested in learning more about your options. You should also consult your health insurance company to further discuss costs associated with either option. For more information on end of life care or future care wishes, please visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) website.