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Palliative Care vs. Hospice: Understanding The Difference Between The Two

March 23, 2021
Physician Consults With Palliative Care Patient

You may have heard the terms palliative care and hospice used interchangeably but wondered about their differences. While this is a common misconception, hospice and palliative care are separate services that address different situations. There can be overlap between each type of care, and patients may simultaneously receive both. Learn more about the differences between these approaches to care with insights from Richmond University Medical Center.

When Care Is Provided

In most cases, hospice care is for individuals with terminal illnesses who are expected to live for six months or less. Physicians will determine a likely prognosis and may advise the individual to seek hospice, or comfort care, during this time. Should the patient live longer than expected, they may continue to participate in hospice care or the best-case scenario, recover enough to end their program and return to curative treatments.

In contrast, palliative care does not depend on how long a patient may live. This type of care may be offered for anyone coping with a serious illness or chronic condition that affects daily living in significant ways. A physician may suggest palliative care at the time of diagnosis for conditions like heart disease, liver failure, or cancer, or they may recommend it as needs change. Palliative care may even begin at the end of a patient’s life.

The Role of Medical Treatment

Because palliative care may be given whenever patients face serious illness, it is often administered alongside curative treatment. This could mean undergoing chemotherapy, receiving an organ transplant, or receiving blood transfusions. The patient is free to pursue curative or life-prolonging care for their condition for as long as they like while receiving additional support from palliative care. At the same time, palliative care can assist in coping with the effects of treatment, including pain, fatigue, difficulty eating, and more.

Curative and/or life-prolonging treatment is not part of hospice care, as full recovery is not possible. This means any curative treatments are ended and the patient opts for care that helps them eliminate pain and manage the psychological and emotional impact of symptoms and dying. It’s important to note however that patients may end hospice care at any time and pursue life-prolonging care if they wish.

How Are Hospice and Palliative Care Similar?

One of the most important commonalities between palliative care and hospice is an emphasis on comfort. Whether the patient seeks curative treatment or support at the end of life, care providers will focus on how to reduce pain, alleviate mental health concerns, and improve comfort. Both types of care also include behavioral health care that addresses common side effects of serious and/or terminal conditions, such as anxiety, sadness, fear, and more.

Non-medical services are also defining characteristics of these care modalities. Patients receive support for care coordination between every member of their team. Both types of care may also include:

  • Support in making important medical decisions
  • Referrals for social services and other community resources
  • Assistance with advance care directives, do not resuscitate orders, and more
  • End-of-life planning
  • Support for loved ones
  • And more

Do you have questions about the differences between palliative care and hospice? If so, contact Richmond University Medical Center by calling 718-818-4104. Our caring team will help determine which approach is right for you or a loved one and ensure you receive all the support you need.