Understanding the Difference Between Palliative and Hospice Care

Learning the difference between palliative care and hospice can be confusing, since both are centered on giving the patient comfort for their symptoms.

But palliative care and hospice care, though related, are not the same.

Comfort for Symptoms

According to the National Institutes of Health, doctors may continue to give treatments to seriously ill patients in hope of a cure during palliative care, sometimes simply called “comfort care.” Palliative care treats the symptoms of patients, giving them a better quality of life and comfort. A patient can receive palliative care at any point in their health care journey, even right at diagnosis, and it is not dependent on their prognosis.

Hospice: An Approach at Lifes End

Like palliative care, hospice offers comfort to the patient and support to the family. But in hospice, the patient is no longer receiving treatment aimed at a cure of a terminal illness. Hospice is not just a place, but an approach to care, so it can take place in many locations: a home, a hospital, a nursing home or a hospice facility. Hospice care is often provided when the patient’s doctor believes they have less than six months to live and the patient is ready to give up curative treatment for the disease that is expected to be life-ending.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has a handy chart to explain the difference.

3 Things to Consider

The Hospice Foundation of America offers three things that may help patients and their loved ones decide when it is time for hospice:

  • A doctor says the patient has six months or less to live
  • The patient’s health is rapidly declining
  • The patient is ready to forgo treatment and live more comfortably

How to Find a Hospice

If you are searching for hospice care for your loved one, be sure to educate yourself about the best ways to choose their care. The Hospice Foundation of America offers this worksheet to get started. Among the questions you should ask are “what services are provided” and “what’s the role of hospice volunteers.” Find more questions on their website.

Your doctor, social worker, hospital or the Oregon Hospice Association can connect you with the best hospice services for your loved ones. The Washington State Hospice and Palliative Care Organization is another online resource for those who live there.

You can learn more about the difference between palliative and hospice care at the U.S. National Library of Medicine Medline Plus website.

When supporting a loved one with a serious illness, learning about all the medical terminology and choices for care can feel overwhelming. By taking the time to do some research, you will be better prepared to understand your loved one’s situation and make the best choices.

Photo by Joey Kyber


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