Hospice vs. Palliative Care

When patients are offered a palliative care consult, it is assumed something must be wrong to the point of end-of-life care is being requested. This can put that person in a defensive, depressed, or any other negative mood. What many people don’t know is that palliative care and hospice care are two different types of care. It is ok to question your doctor when being offered one of these types of care, but you also must know what the end goal is for each of them. This may help calm your emotions and form better questions to ask your care team.

What is palliative care?

According to the NIH, "Palliative care is a resource for anyone living with a serious illness, such as heart failure, COPD, cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and many others. Palliative care can be helpful at any stage of illness and is best provided from the point of diagnosis.”1

While palliative care officially comes from a palliative care team of doctors and nurses, we actually all do some form of palliative care since diagnosis. Palliative care is meant to help minimize pain and suffering from a disease but still fight and attempt to cure or stabilize your illness. This is by no means end-of-life care and should not be thought of that way. More than likely a palliative care consultation will be officially requested when your primary care doctor or cardiologist needs help controlling pain or discomfort from your illness, but it is still not meant to be end-of-life care.

What is hospice care?

On hospice care, the NIH states: “Like palliative care, hospice provides comprehensive comfort care as well as support for the family, but, in hospice, attempts to cure the person’s illness are stopped. Hospice is provided for a person with a terminal illness whose doctor believes he or she has 6 months or less to live if the illness runs its natural course.”1

More on this topic

As you can see, the main difference in the two is palliative care allows to continue fighting the disease, and hospice you stop fighting and are made comfortable while the disease runs its course. One thing to note, even if you start hospice care, at any point you can stop and continue to fight the disease. It is not a final decision. You can also live much longer on hospice care. It does not stop at six months. If you were to live a year, you can be on hospice the entire time. It is simply based on a doctor’s estimate on how long you should survive untreated.

Where do palliative care and hospice take place?

Palliative care generally does not take place specifically outside a medical setting unless something you need dictates this. You may need some medication or treatments, but most of this will happen in a hospital or office setting. Hospice can take place in your home allowing you to not be in a hospital and finish life where you choose. You will have access to the hospice team 24/7 and possibly have a staff at your home full time.

Hopefully this will help you

As you can see, there are a few main differences in palliative and hospice care that are important to know. Hopefully, this will help you formulate some questions to ask your doctor, and if you want to fight, but are suffering despite what your primary care team does to help, you may want to request a palliative care consultation to see how they can help you. Now that you know palliative care is not end-of-life care like hospice, don’t be afraid to explore it as an option.

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