What is the difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

Differences between Palliative Care and Hospice

Palliative care and hospice care are both specialized healthcare models that focus on palliation or relief of symptoms associated with acute, debilitating illnesses. Symptoms may include pain, difficulty breathing, nausea or the need for additional emotional support.

It's important to know the differences and when needed, to select the one that best fits a patient's needs and desires.

Palliative Care

Palliative care and hospice care focus on improving the quality of life, based on the patient and family goals. Palliative care is a part of hospice care while hospice care is not necessarily a part of palliative care. In other words, hospice care utilizes palliative care to treat distressing symptoms while palliative care is applied without using the hospice philosophy.

Palliative care, while focusing on symptom management, also allows for aggressive treatment. For example, an individual with cancer may choose palliative care for relief of pain and nausea, as well as undergo chemotherapy and radiation. With palliative care, an individual has access to needed resources throughout the process and can make informed care decisions.

The synergistic relationship between symptom management and aggressive treatment often yields better results than aggressive treatment alone. If aggressive treatment is no longer feasible, palliative care professionals can assist in transitioning to hospice care.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is a model of care that focuses on the end of life, in which aggressive treatments are no longer indicated or desired. Hospice care focuses on the palliation of symptoms to allow a terminally ill individual to live the rest of their life to the fullest extent possible.

Hospice goes beyond a medical model where all aspects of the end of life experience are considered: physical, emotional, psychosocial and spiritual. A team of specially trained professionals collaborate with the patient and the family to address end of life issues and goals for care.

While it is believed by some that receiving hospice is "giving up", research indicates that individuals receiving hospice care may live longer than those who do not receive hospice care. A study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (March 2007) found that Medicare beneficiaries with a terminal diagnosis of congestive heart failure or certain types of cancer lived, on average, 29 days longer than those who did not receive hospice services (NHPCO, 2010).

Another common misconception about hospice care is that terminally ill individuals are given medications, such as morphine, that contribute to a hastened death. While medications like morphine are initiated, the dosage prescribed is at the lowest quantity needed to provide comfort. "Start low and go slow" is the motto hospices operate by when prescribing medications.

If you or a loved one receives a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, talk to your physician about palliative and hospice care. Ask how each apply to benefit your unique situation.

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