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Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

What is the Difference Between Palliative and Hospice Care?

Hospice care is similar to palliative care, but there are important differences. Because more than 90 percent of hospice care is paid for through the Medicare hospice benefit, hospice patients must meet Medicare’s eligibility requirements, which palliative care patients do not.

Palliative vs Hospice graphic

1. The definition of hospice care is compassionate comfort care (as opposed to curative care) for people facing a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less, based on their physician’s estimate if the disease runs its course as expected. The definition of palliative care is compassionate comfort care that provides relief from the symptoms and physical and mental stress of a serious or life-limiting illness. Palliative care can be pursued at diagnosis, during curative treatment and follow-up, and at the end of life.

2. The objective of both hospice and palliative care is pain and symptom relief.

Who Rejects Curative Treatment?

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has identified the characteristics of a patient who should receive palliative care but not curative treatment; these characteristics are applicable to patients with other diseases, too.

  • The patient has limited ability to care for himself.
  • The patient has received curative treatment and is no longer benefitting from it.
  • The patient does not qualify for an appropriate clinical trial.
  • There is no evidence that further treatment would be effective.

3. Eligibility requires that two physicians certify that the patient has less than six months to live if the disease follows its usual course. Palliative care is begun at the discretion of the physician and patient at any time, at any stage of illness, terminal or not. 

4. Interdisciplinary teams deliver both hospice and palliative care. They address physical, emotional and spiritual pain, including such common worries as loss of independence, the well-being of the family and feeling like a burden.

5. Cost of care is paid 100 percent by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance; it is the only Medicare benefit that includes pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, 24/7 access to care, nursing, social services, chaplain visits, grief support following a death and other services deemed appropriate by the hospice agency. Whereas palliative care, from office visits to prescription charges, is paid for by insurance, by the patient or by charity.

6. Hospice care is delivered at home or in home-like hospice residences, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, veterans' facilities, hospitals and other facilities. Palliative care teams typically work in a hospital.

Talk to your family and your doctor about your goals of care and whether palliative care and/or hospice might improve your quality of life.

For a more information on palliative care vs. hospice care, click to download our quick reference guide.

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