Q. What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?
The goal of hospice care is to provide pain and symptom management, while also focusing on the person’s quality of life. The hospice team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, pastoral counselors, home attendants and volunteers and they explore the medical, emotional, spiritual and psychological impact of illness and possible death with the patient as well as his/her loved ones. The team also provides continued supportive services to the family in the form of grief and bereavement counseling when needed. The majority of hospice care in the United States is provided in the home, and services are also available in nursing homes, hospitals and private hospice facilities.
The World Health Organization defines palliative care as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.” Sounds a lot like hospice, doesn’t it? So then, what is the difference?
The difference has to do with the medical definition of chronic vs. end-stage illness and the insurance benefits structure. For a patient to be referred to hospice and receive Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance hospice benefits, a doctor must attest that, in their best estimation, a patient has 6 months or less to live. Palliative care referrals have no such requirement. A patient who has a life threatening illness, however not considered to be within that 6 month life expectancy window, can now be referred for palliative care. So, as with hospice care, the focus with a palliative care referral is symptom and pain management. Thus, all hospice care is palliative but not all palliative care is hospice care.
Finally, hospice and palliative care is now a medical and boarded specialty, requiring physicians to pass a licensing exam in order to be considered a Hospice/Palliative care doctor.
For more information on hospice and palliative care, please visit the following websites: