Caregiver Question | 12/01/22

What’s the difference between palliative care and hospice?

DEAR CARALLEL: I care for my husband with cancer. Palliative care has been mentioned recently along with hospice but I don’t understand the difference. They seem like the same thing. Are they? –Faith in Los Gatos, CA

DEAR FAITH: It’s a good question and I’m glad you wrote in.

The words hospice and palliative care are often used interchangeably and that can be confusing for people. It certainly was for me. 

While there are similarities, there are key differences we should be aware of as caregivers. Hopefully this email will clear things up. 

Palliative Care
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness, focused on providing relief from symptoms and improving quality of life. Key to note is that palliative care can be provided along with treatment to cure (aka curative care) and can start at the time of diagnosis or at the onset of the illness. 

Palliative care is provided in a variety of settings–in hospitals, at home, in skilled nursing and other senior housing communities, or in palliative care clinics. 

Finally in terms of payment, it’s usually covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance; however there may be co-pays. 

Hospice is specialized care focused on comfort and quality of life for someone who is living with a serious illness and approaching the end of their life in the opinion of medical professionals. 

It’s provided by an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, aides, social workers, spiritual advisors, and trained volunteers providing services like music, massage, or art therapy. 

Hospice care cannot be provided in tandem with curative care. 

Lastly, it’s covered by the Medicare Hospice Benefit under Medicare Part A. In addition, Medicaid covers hospice in most states, as does the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

In Summary
Both palliative care and hospice are similarly focused on comfort and improving quality of life for people living with a serious illness. Yet the key differences between the two are rooted in when someone is eligible and the overall intent of care. 

Palliative care can be provided in conjunction with curative care, while hospice cannot. 

Further, a person is eligible for hospice when it is determined by an assessment that they have six months or less to live. In contrast, one can access palliative care at or near the onset of their illness. 

Lastly, i recommend checking out this Carallel Caregiver Journey Webinar: Palliative Care and Hospice–What’s the Difference and How Can They Help?

My colleagues Mary Pat and Matt spend 30 minutes talking in much more detail about this very topic. 

Hope this helps! 

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate 

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