Is Hospice and Palliative Care the Same? Important Facts to Know
End-of-life care is a delicate subject and a difficult topic for many families. Therefore, most don’t know or research the difference between palliative care and hospice until it emerges as a pressing reality for a loved one.
It is important that every individual be afforded the chance to make their end-of-life care wishes known to their family and healthcare providers. It is equally important that families be able to make informed decisions when they are unsure what their loved one would want. This article aims to equip readers with comprehensive information on both palliative and hospice care to better prepare you for those hard situations.
What Is Palliative Care?
Most healthcare practitioners are focused on eradicating an illness and its symptoms. For example, an oncologist targets their care plan at removing cancer and preventing its return, while a gastroenterologist will tackle digestive disorders.
Palliative medicine is different; it is focused entirely on improving the quality of life of the patient. This often means providing pain relief via drugs and therapies and enlisting a team of social workers, licensed counselors, and/or chaplains for emotional and spiritual support. It aims to reduce stress, which may be accomplished with yoga, art or music therapy, and even visits with therapy animals like dogs or horses.
While in-home palliative care is available, it is most commonly provided at a hospital or outpatient clinic. It is often partially or completely covered by insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.
When Should Someone Be Offered Palliative Care?
Palliative care can be requested by the patient or their family, as well as prescribed by a doctor, anytime after the diagnosis of a serious and long term illness, such as cancer, COPD, heart failure, liver disease, kidney disease, Parkinson’s, stroke, and similar conditions. The patient does not need to wait until symptoms are severe, and in fact, can begin palliative care early in their treatment to experience less pain and distress.
Note that a patient receiving palliative care does not need to stop curative or life-prolonging treatment for their long term illness; they continue to have the option to undergo surgery or chemotherapy, etc. This is mainly what distinguishes palliative care from hospice care.
What Is Hospice Care?
Hospice is prescribed for patients when their physician believes their health cannot be improved, and will rather deteriorate steadily and quickly. At the point when the patient’s life expectancy is determined to be six months or less, hospice becomes an option.
At this time, the hospice patient will cease to receive curative care. This means no more surgeries and similar procedures or treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Patients will continue to receive care that provides relief, such as painkillers, blood thinners, antidepressants, wound care, and the like.
Like palliative care, hospice care is focused on improving quality of life for the patient through pain and symptom management, as well as emotional and mental health support. It is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and oftentimes private insurance. Many patients receive hospice care at home or in a dedicated facility with trained hospice staff.
When Should Someone Be Offered Hospice Care?
Hospice is for patients with under six months of life expectancy, as determined by their doctor. This is also known as the terminal stage of illness. Many patients who have been fighting hard against a long term illness reach a point at which treatments are doing more harm than good, with intense adverse effects. This is when they may begin to consider hospice as an alternative to their curative care, wanting to simply feel better and maximize the time they have left.
It cannot be overstated how difficult this decision can be for the patient and their loved ones. However, the benefits of hospice can provide immense physical, emotional, and practical relief.
How Is Palliative Care the Same as Hospice?
Palliative care and hospice share certain important qualities:
- Neither requires you to give up your primary care physician. While your curative and life-prolonging treatments will cease under hospice care, your doctor remains part of your care team, which is reassuring to many patients.
- Both allow you to move in and out of care. While hospice patients are deemed to be terminal, with a life expectancy under six months, they sometimes exceed this expectancy. These patients can continue to receive care, or they can also leave hospice and resume curative care. There is no time limit on palliative care; it can also be started and stopped as desired or needed.
- Both are aimed at improving a patient’s quality of life and physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Both also address the wellbeing of the patient’s family/loved ones. At-home support services, for example, provide opportunities for respite care as well as immediate response to new developments in the patient’s health. This brings much peace of mind to loved ones.
- Both are typically covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Insurance plans and nonprofit organizations are also common funding sources, with some nonprofits even providing palliative or hospice services.
The main difference between palliative care vs. hospice is that the latter is exclusively for terminal patients and will mean the end of life-prolonging treatments of their illness.
Having the Conversation
It can be beneficial to discuss hospice vs. palliative care when facing a serious diagnosis. Understanding what is available and what the difference between hospice and palliative care entails allows the patient and family to make the best possible decisions ahead of high-stress, high-pressure moments. Knowing that palliative care is an option can lead to more comfortable treatment of long term conditions.
If your loved one is a veteran, our VetAssist mission is to make home care easily and quickly accessible for those who qualify through the VA Pension with Aid and Attendance benefit. Veterans Home Care can help you determine whether you or your loved one will be eligible to receive the benefit, which can cover some or all of the cost of home care, and we make it easy to apply. Chat with us via our website, or call us at (888) 314-6075.
By Sylvia Trein, staff writer