If someone in your family is dying, you may be asked to decide between hospice and palliative care for them. So, how do you decide? What is the difference between the two? Someone you know may have had hospice care, so you pretty much know what it is. It gets confusing when you find out that hospice uses palliative care to provide comfort to the dying patient.

However, palliative care is usually a system employed in hospitals along with some traditional medical care.

The biggest differences are where the patient is cared for, when they take place, how you pay, and which people qualify

When the patient’s doctor recommends placement in a hospice program, it is run by a team and usually takes place in the patient’s home.

The patient’s family and a visiting nurse provide care.

Palliative Care vs Hospice Care

If the patient is in a nursing home, a hospice facility, or even in a hospital; hospice care can be given but this is not the normal case.

Palliative care teams are assigned to administer treatment most commonly in a hospital, care facility or a nursing home. These places are commonly associated with the palliative care teams. The care can be given in the home but that is not common.

To qualify for hospice care, a patient has to be diagnosed as terminal or most likely to die within six months. This diagnosis is required before receiving hospice care or to qualify for hospice benefits. On the other hand, there are no time restrictions for palliative are that can happen at any time.

Both hospice and palliative care have as a central philosophy a belief that everyone has the right to die with dignity and without pain.

Hospice Care Functions

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Organization, the hospice care team does the following:

  • Manages the patient’s pain and symptoms;
  • Assists the patient with the emotional and psychosocial and spiritual aspects of dying;
  • Provides needed drugs, medical supplies, and equipment;
  • Coaches the family on how to care for the patient;
  • Delivers special services like speech and physical therapy when needed;
  • Makes short-term inpatient care available when pain or symptoms become too difficult to manage at home, or the caregiver needs respite time; and
  • Provides bereavement care and counseling to surviving family and friends.

Palliative Care Functions

According to the same organization, the following features characterize palliative care philosophy and delivery:

  • Care is provided and services are coordinated by an interdisciplinary team;
  • Patients, families, palliative and non-palliative health care providers collaborate and communicate about care needs;
  • Services are available concurrently with or independent of curative or life-prolonging care;
  • Patient and family hopes for peace and dignity are supported throughout the course of illness, during the dying process, and after death.

Most of the time, the decision between hospice and palliative care comes down to insurance coverage. While most insurance companies cover the expenses required for palliative care, Medicare and Medicaid cover all of the required expenses for hospice without co-pay costs of other insurance companies. Of course, the patient must meet the requirements for being admitted to a hospice program.

It is always helpful to have a health care plan with a proxy in writing. You will be able to indicate your preferences for care and treatment at that time.


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