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:
- 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
1 Mayo Clinic, “Palliative Care,” 2021.
2 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.
3 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.
4 University of Michigan Health, “The Difference Between Palliative and Hospice Health Care,” 2020.