For Healthcare Professionals
Approximately 90 million people in the US are living with a serious illness. That number will more than double over the next 25 years. Palliative care or hospice care can improve the quality of life for patients and their families. Here is an overview of the differences between both types of care.
Defining Palliative and Hospice Care
Palliative care is specialized medical care for patients living with a serious illness. It relieves patients from the symptoms and stress of their condition at any stage of the disease while they continue receiving curative treatments.
Hospice care is a type of palliative care for patients with a terminal illness who have six months or less to live, as determined by a healthcare professional when curative treatments are no longer effective or when a patient stops pursuing aggressive therapies.
Common Signs a Patient is Ready for Palliative Care or Hospice Care
- Diagnosed with a severe illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), liver disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s disease (list not all-inclusive). Palliative care is available during any stage of the serious illness.
- The patient is experiencing emotional or spiritual distress and needs support
- The patient is having trouble managing pain and symptoms due to their illness, medication, or curative treatment
- Common diagnoses for hospice include cancer, congestive heart failure, COPD, kidney disease, stroke, and severe malnutrition. Two diagnoses can combine to create a prognosis of six months or less.
- Physical Indicators include frequent falls, recurring infections, weight loss/loss of appetite, skin breakdown, rehospitalizations, difficulty swallowing, increased shortness of breath, a decline in the ability to complete activities of daily living (ADLs), worsening of chronic systems, altered mental status, treatment options have been exhausted.
- Psychosocial Indicators: longing for quality of life, yearning to enjoy life and family, decreasing social participation, losing the will to “fight,” needing extra end-of-life support
- Patients receiving palliative care may pursue curative treatments for their underlying illness alongside symptom management and supportive care.
- With hospice care, curative treatments are generally discontinued. Instead, the focus shifts entirely to comfort care and symptom management.
Care and Services
- Medical Care: In addition to providing pain and symptom management, healthcare providers provide education on disease progression and medication management and offer guidance for treatment options and goals.
- Emotional and Social Care: Social workers help patients and their families navigate the complexities of living with a serious illness by providing emotional and social support.
- Ongoing Family Support: Some palliative care providers offer support, education, and understanding of their loved one’s care plan.
- Medical Care: Nurses provide comfort for pain and symptom management. Certified nursing assistants bathe and feed the patient. Medication, supplies, and equipment are delivered to the patient.
- Emotional and Social Care: Social workers provide emotional support for patients and their families, and trained hospice chaplains offer spiritual support
- Life Enrichment Programs: Some hospices offer added comfort with massage therapy, music, or hospice-certified dogs.
- Ongoing Family Support: Some hospices provide education and guidance about caregiving, transitioning, and short-term respite care.
Sites of Care
- Palliative care is available in various settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, and at home.
- Hospice care is usually provided at home, as many patients want to spend their last days in their home. However, hospice care is available and provided wherever the patient is, such as an assisted living facility, specialized hospice facilities, or nursing homes.
- Most insurance plans cover the cost of palliative care.
- Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs (VA), and private insurance.
In summary, patients with serious illnesses can experience improved quality of life with palliative or hospice care. Approximately 6,000 people in the US can benefit from palliative care. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, in 2019, 1.61 million Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in hospice care. Many patients who start on palliative care eventually transition to hospice care as their illness progresses. Choosing a care provider that offers both palliative and hospice care ensures continuity of care, consistent communication, and one care provider for both services.
For over 30 years, Unity Hospice and Palliative Care has provided exceptional care for patients and ongoing support for their loved ones. We are a family-owned hospice and palliative care provider that develops individualized care programs based on each patient’s specific needs. Our interdisciplinary team of expert physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, certified nursing assistants, chaplains and volunteers work together to provide continuity of care and ongoing communication to ensure quality care and comfort for the patients we serve. For more information about Unity: Click Here.
Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC). https://media.capc.org/filer_public/68/bc/68bc93c7-14ad-4741-9830-8691729618d0/capc_press-kit.pdf
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. 2022 Edition: Hospice Facts and Figures. Alexandra, VA: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. (2021). Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care. https://www.nhpco.org/palliative-care-vs-hospice-care/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2019). Palliative Care. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/palliativecare/index.htm
World Health Organization (WHO). (2020). Palliative Care. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/palliative-care