Healthcare TipsMental Well-Being

Do You Know the Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care?

November 4, 2022
Elder man receiving care from a nurse.

If someone you love has been seriously ill and turned to either hospice or palliative care for help, you may understand the difference between those two more intimately than most. As for the rest of us, it can be confusing to distinguish between the different specialties and learn what each one offers patients. Since November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, there’s no time like the present to start understanding these options better.

Compassion is at the forefront of care

First, let’s talk about the many similarities of hospice and palliative care. Both specialties put compassion as the number one ingredient to helping the patient feel more comfortable. Hospice and palliative care workers will address patients’ physical concerns, but also their emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Wondering what that means? Let’s dive a little deeper.

When you are seriously ill, it takes a toll not just on your physical health but on every dimension of your life. Your family members may not understand how to process the feelings they are having. You, yourself, may begin to feel waves of anxiety or depression as you try to make sense of your condition and possible treatments, or even come to terms with a shortened life expectancy. It’s at this time, when circumstances are the most difficult, that many people turn to their faith for answers and hope to benefit from the wisdom of those around them.

Both palliative and hospice care workers are well versed in the cycles of life and disease. They have a deep understanding of what may arise for their patients in every level of their experience. Because they have faced this with other patients and have seen people navigate the challenges of serious illness, they can offer wisdom to both those suffering and their families. This holistic compassion makes hospice and palliative care a safe refuge in the most troubled times.

Palliative care recipients may still be focusing on a cure

While they work in a similar fashion (and, in the end, hospice care does fall underneath the umbrella of palliative care), most patients who are receiving palliative care are still seeking treatment. This is the main difference between the two, as hospice patients are no longer trying to treat their illness. 

Palliative care patients are most likely seeking care within a hospital, rehab facility, nursing facility, or their home. They may need help managing symptoms and pain as well as the stress that comes from facing a serious illness. Many cancer patients may turn to a palliative nurse, for example, to help them with the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, which can range from fatigue to nausea or even intense pain. 

Hospice patients, on the other hand, may have received general palliative care at some point, but have either been told that there are no more options or have made the conscious choice to undergo no further treatment. When this happens, as you can imagine, their families need support as well. Hospice workers are skilled in helping to manage their patient’s pain and other symptoms so they can remain comfortable. They will also need to help bring peace to the swirl of emotions present when a loved one is facing the end of their life. 

Who is eligible for care?

Both hospice and palliative care workers team up with their patient’s care team to help relay important information. Hospice is widely covered by many insurance plans as well as Medicaid, VA benefits, Medicare, and Medicare Advantage. This is great news to patients and families when a life-limiting illness could mean a building up of costs related to home aide visits, medication, equipment, and supplies. Similarly, palliative care is covered by Medicare, VA benefits, and most private insurance plans, although some co-pays may apply.

Whether you or your loved one are seeking treatment for a serious illness or are experiencing the end of life, hospice and palliative workers are a great resource to help ease the pain and burden you and your family may be feeling. This month, let’s honor all the workers who make this type of compassionate care a possibility for American families. 

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