Both palliative care and hospice care focus on the needs of the whole patient, not just someone’s illness. Both have the goal of decreasing symptoms and increasing quality of life, and both help patients and their families live as fully as possible and with dignity in spite of their illness.
Palliative care is for patients managing a serious illness. With palliative care, curative treatments continue but with a more holistic approach that takes you and your whole life into account. With palliative care, you get a team of specially trained professionals to help you navigate your life, as well as your illness. A palliative care team typically consists of a medical social worker, some combination of healthcare providers – such as a physician, nurse practitioner and nurses – and perhaps a pharmacist, nutritionist, spiritual counselor and volunteers. Working closely with you and your family, the team helps you or your loved one:
Have a conversation with family members about and document wishes for future health care;
Develop treatment goals and a life-management plan that reflect your or your loved one’s values, life goals, lifestyle and desires;
Ensure proper pain management and symptom relief is in place;
See that financial issues are addressed and help is found if needed; and
Ensure that family members receive information, support, respite and other needed resources.
With palliative care, the patient is always in control. You or your loved one can ask the doctor for a referral to palliative care at any time during a serious illness and palliative care services can be stopped at any time during an illness or when there’s recovery.
Hospice care is for an individual with any life-limiting condition and typically a prognosis of six months or less to live. As with palliative care, hospice care is provided by an interdisciplinary team of healthcare and human services professionals.
A hospice team works closely with the individual who is ill to achieve many of the same goals as with palliative care. The difference is that hospice patients are no longer seeking curative treatments, but rather are seeking comfort and quality of life. Hospice care does nothing to hasten death. In fact, people receiving hospice care often live longer than people actively being treated for the same disease. With hospice care:
Services can be received at home, at a care facility, at a hospital or at a hospice house. For those in a hospital or nursing facility, hospice care can often make a move home possible if so desired.
Hospice recipients can continue to see their regular physicians and use prescribed medications.
People under hospice care can go out, have visitors in and do whatever they feel up to doing.
Individuals under hospice care can stop receiving it and resume curative treatment at any time.
A physician’s referral is required for palliative or hospice care. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance may offer benefits for both types of care. Care teams can help look into specifics of an individual’s health care policy to determine what is covered.
MORE ABOUT PALLIATIVE AND HOSPICE CARE
Visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at nhpco.org/patients-and-caregivers.