Palliative Care and Hospice Care – What They Are and How They Differ

Hospice and palliative care are a team approach to caregiving that provide comfort and improve quality of life for patients and their families. Both palliative care and hospice can be given in an outpatient setting by caregivers such as physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, counselors, nutritional advisors and chaplains or spiritual advisers. Palliative care is a key component of hospice care, however it is also a much broader concept and there are several key differences between them.

Care with Comfort and Dignity

Hospice care is end-of-life care. Hospice care is provided when treatment is no longer an option and the patient is not expected to live more than six months. Its goal is to make the patient’s final days as comfortable and dignified as possible, and it is provided in a home setting.

The determination to begin hospice care is made by the physician but the patient (or the family in cases where the patient is unable) must agree to it and understand that accepting hospice care means foregoing curative treatment. Currently, under the existing Affordable Care Act, there is one exception; children receiving hospice care can also receive treatments aimed at curing the disease, so parents don’t have to make the difficult choice between end-of-life care and continuing treatment that could possibly make their children well.

Improving Quality of Life

Palliative care seeks to improve the patient’s quality of life through pain relief and symptom management while also helping the patient and the patient’s family cope with depression, stress and emotional issues that can result from serious illness. Diseases that can receive palliative care include, but are not limited to, cancer, kidney or liver disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), or MS (multiple sclerosis).

Palliative care can be provided to any patient, young or old, who is suffering from a serious illness. It can be provided at any stage of an illness and can be given along with efforts to cure the disease. Research has shown that patients receiving palliative care for serious illnesses tend to live longer and better lives.

Palliative care is one of the fastest growing fields in U.S. medicine, and nearly 75% of hospitals now offer some type of palliative care treatment delivered by teams of physicians, nurses and other professionals specially trained in this type of caregiving. Hospitals and community clinics can also provide palliative care on an outpatient basis.

Communication is Key

Communicating with your physician or health care provider about palliative and hospice care is essential. With either type of care, patients and their families are best served by planning in advance as much as possible so they can understand the choices available to them when confronted with serious illness.

Most insurance plans offer coverage for palliative and hospice care for people who are not on Medicare or Medicaid, but the extent of the coverage varies with the different plans. Palliative and hospice care reduce emergency room visits and hospital admissions, which lowers overall costs for insurers and patients.

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