Hospice Care versus Palliative Care

How are they different?

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month and the perfect time to shed some light on the difference between hospice and palliative care. The theme this year is ‘It’s About How You Live.’

We’ve heard it said time and time again, ‘Live life to its fullest!’ And for those living with a chronic disease or life-limiting illness, that sentiment carries far more weight, impact, and urgency.

When needed, utilizing hospice care or palliative care is a way for patients to experience their best quality of life for as long as they are living. For those who understand the value in receiving this care, the key is enrolling in it at the earliest point possible to receive all of the benefits it provides. Knowing the difference between the two is very important to the process of benefiting from the care.

Most people are familiar with what hospice care is, in its basic form – care provided to those with a terminal diagnosis to ensure comfort and quality of care at the end of life. This course of care is employed when there are no longer curative options or the patient chooses not to pursue curative measures for various reasons. Most people don’t understand that hospice care can begin early in the process and offer months of assistance and support, and it’s a benefit that’s not often fully utilized.

Hospice care not only provides comfort to the patient but also support to the family. The hospice care team includes a physician or nurse practitioner, a nurse, a home health aide, social worker, volunteers, and a spiritual counselor, such as a chaplain. The interdisciplinary group of caregivers advocate for the patient and address their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This team approach provides personalized care wherever the patient resides, whether in a private home, assisted living, or nursing care residence. 

Palliative care is typically introduced to a patient earlier in the course of their serious illness. With a chronic or life-threatening illness, like cancer, cardiac disease such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), quality of life can be dependent on proper symptom management. Enrolling in palliative care provides the assistance of a nurse practitioner to navigate the patient’s plan of care, coordinating treatment and managing symptoms. Pain, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, depression, stress, and difficulty sleeping can all be managed through palliative care and delivered in tandem with a patient’s curative medical treatment to provide comfort and allow them to live their best life. 

Unlike hospice, palliative care can begin at any time, at any stage of an illness. However, as a patient’s condition progresses, their palliative care plan often transitions into hospice care.