The Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care

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October 24, 2017

The Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care

Donna O'Neill

Do you know the difference between palliative and hospice care?

If you are baffled, you are not alone. Many people outside of the medical community don’t understand the difference between the two. The prevailing thought is that palliative and hospice care are synonymous and both come at end of life. This is because when we talk to patients and their families about palliative care hospice is often mentioned, adding to the confusion. While it’s true that hospice care is an enhanced type of palliative care, it is important to know the differences.


Because not understanding the differences may discourage a patient from seeking out or accepting either option. These key differences are important to recognize:


Palliative Care is for patients of any age, at any stage of a life-threatening illness, and starts at the time of diagnosis. Patients can get treatments intended to cure, and may or may not be dying. Its availability does not depend upon whether or not your condition can be cured. It doesn’t replace your primary treatment as it is available to you at any time during your illness. It is often alongside very aggressive medical care (transplants, surgery, chemo), but it sometimes becomes the focus of treatment as patients approach the end of their lives. In the latter circumstance, patients sometimes transition to hospice care, and palliative care can help with this transition. The majority of the time, palliative care works to improve the patient’s quality of life while they simultaneously receive the best possible treatment of their underlying disease. It focuses on improving symptoms and helping in discussions of what patients want from their medical care.

Hospice Care is a philosophy of care and a program for the terminally ill of any age. The goal is to keep patients free as possible from pain and symptoms, and allow them to maintain a good quality of life for the time remaining. It promotes the patient’s right to self-determination and decision making. Cure is not a goal. Hospice does not cover treatments to cure your illness. The plan of care reflects patient and family goals. Hospice care is appropriate during the last six months of life. Admission to hospice involves a physician to validate a “life-limiting” diagnosis (required by Medicare law). No longer able to control the disease, the doctor has determined the patient’s life expectancy at six months or less.


Both palliative care and hospice care emphasize comprehensive care of the whole patient, inclusive of physical, social, emotional, and spiritual concerns.


Pallitive care is usually given in hospitals. Sometimes it takes place at nursing homes, assisted living facilities or homes. Hospice Care mostly happens at home, although it can also be given in hospitals, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities. Short-term inpatient care (for pain and symptom management) and short term respite care available in inpatient unit.

Financial issues

Palliative Care: There is no special insurance benefit. Most insurance plans cover all or part of the palliative care treatment you receive in the hospital.

Hospice Care: A patient who chooses the Medicare hospice benefit agrees to give up treatments meant to cure disease. The Hospice Medicare benefit and most private insurances pay for hospice care as long as the patient continues to meet the criteria necessary.

Palliative and hospice care need to be integrated throughout the continuum of care for patients entering the final phase of a predictable progressive terminal illness. This type of care best reflects an individual patient’s needs and goals.

Related Taxonomy

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