September 2, 2021 | Net Health

3 min read

What’s the Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care?

People whose loved ones have a serious illness often hear about hospice and palliative care. With so many terms to understand at once, it’s understandable that it can be overwhelming. They sound so similar, but what is the difference? Below, we break down these two types of care.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is care that reduces pain and discomfort during serious illness, whether early-stage or advanced.1 Its primary goal is to increase the quality of life by improving common symptoms like digestive disturbances, sleep problems, and fatigue, among other things. Palliative care may include:

  • Mental and emotional health support
  • Pain management
  • Spiritual support
  • Assistance connecting to resources in the community

It’s complementary to treatment and may increase effectiveness. For example, some studies indicate that palliative care helps patients’ cancer treatments go more smoothly, reducing hospital admissions.2 Research also shows that when patients have better treatment experiences, clinical effectiveness improves.3 Palliative care can be a good way to support a loved one during a diagnosis.

What is Hospice Care?

In contrast to general palliative care, hospice care is chosen in the later stages of a terminal illness when the patient is usually expected to be in the final six months of their lives.  Hospice care also focuses on making a patient more comfortable, so patients may often hear the term “palliative” used by hospice caregivers.4 Yet, there is a key difference. Often, in this situation, patients and their loved ones would like to focus on different priorities than they might have earlier in the illness. 

This may include spiritual preparation for end-of-life, medical education on what to expect in the coming months, and support when loved ones feel overwhelmed. Some of the caregivers that may assist throughout the hospice journey include:

  • Nurses
  • Physicians
  • Social workers
  • Chaplains or spiritual caregivers

Care might be provided at home (which is most common) or inpatient, and it’s usually responsive to unique patient needs.

How to Decide Between Palliative and Hospice Care

Some people may still feel unsure about which option is best for them. One approach may be to ask: Is treatment still being recommended, or has the doctor determined that the illness can no longer be treated? If the illness can continue to be treated, palliative care may be most helpful. If the doctor can no longer treat the illness, that means the loved one is nearing the final stages of his or her life, and hospice would most likely be the best option. In this case, doctors may feel it is kinder to focus on giving the patient the best quality of life possible in their final months with family and friends. 
 
Hospice caregivers specialize in making this process as supportive and comforting as possible – not just for patients, but also for their families. Many patients find that hospice helps both them and their loved ones better prepare and navigate this journey. Still, if a patient is not ready for this step, they may be more comfortable continuing with palliative care instead.
 
Ultimately, both hospice and palliative care offer important support for patients and loved ones dealing with advanced illness or injury. They also support the work of healthcare providers by helping patients stay comfortable physically and emotionally. Together, these types of care can provide comforting options to patients and family, while also easing the journey after a difficult diagnosis.

References:

Mayo Clinic, “Palliative Care,” 2021.
The Cancer Journal: The Journal of Principles & Practice of Oncology, “What Is the Evidence That Palliative Care Teams Improve Outcomes for Cancer Patients and Their Families?Higginson, Irene J. PhD, FRCP, FFPHM; Evans, Catherine J. PhD, September 2010.
BMJ Journals: BMJ Open, “A Systematic Review of Evidence on the Links Between Patient Experience and Clinical Safety and Effectiveness,” Cathal Doyle, Laura Lennox, Derek Bell, 2012.
University of Michigan Health, “The Difference Between Palliative and Hospice Health Care,” 2020.

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