Palliative care and Hospice, do you know the difference?

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People often use palliative care and hospice care as though they are interchangeable. While there are some commonalities, the two types of care are actually very different. Understanding what palliative care is and how it works helps people to know best how and when to use it. It also helps them know when they may need to think about transitioning their loved one from palliative care to hospice care.

Palliative care, unlike hospice care, is not time limited. Individuals who may benefit from palliative care are those who struggle with serious, chronic illness. Whereas hospice care focuses on the terminal phase, palliative care works in conjunction with curative treatments to seek to treat the pain, symptoms, and stress of serious illness. Because of the different focus, palliative care is available for any person with a serious, chronic  illness.

Another aspect of palliative care that differentiates it from hospice care is the fact that patients receiving palliative care can continue to seek curative treatment for their illness. Hospice care focuses on patients with a diagnosis of 6 months or less if the disease runs its normal course.  Hospice seeks to comfort the body and mind and manage symptoms. Palliative care is about assisting individuals dealing with serious, chronic illnesses, but who may still benefit from curative treatment.

Several services are provided to individuals receiving palliative care. These services include: pain and symptom management, in-person and telephonic visits, help navigating treatment options, advance care planning, and referrals to community resources. Palliative care serves as a support network for those patients and their families who are dealing with long term, difficult circumstances and illness. Palliative care can be provided in any setting whether that be a patient’s home, assisted living facility, hospital, long term acute care facility, or clinics. The care -- provided by an interdisciplinary team that includes a physician, nurse practitioner or nurse, and support from a social worker and chaplaincy service – is provided in conjunction with the patient’s primary care physician and specialists. Palliative care does not replace the patient’s current medical team, but works with them to provide the best possible service for the patient.

Finally, palliative care is covered through Medicare Part B, Medicaid, and private insurance. Each of these may require a co-pay according to the plan, and some treatments and medications may not be covered. It is important, therefore, to know exactly what your insurance covers and what you may need to be prepared to pay for as well. The palliative care team will be happy to help you determine this information and work with you to ensure that you have as much information as possible so that you can know what to expect.

Palliative care is a support system designed to aid those patients and families facing long term, chronic illness. There is no time limit on how long a person can receive the care, it is available in any setting, and it is covered by insurance. This resource is a valuable one for all people dealing with significant illness and can be a tremendous asset to patients and their families.