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Watching a loved one become significantly ill is an extremely difficult thing to do. While it’s both important and rewarding to care for someone during this time, it is also extremely challenging. In addition to emotional pain, the role of caregiver comes with many added responsibilities that can disrupt daily routine and lead to both physical and mental exhaustion.  

So, while it’s important for a sick loved one to be cared for and supported during this time, it’s equally important to be aware of obstacles that serious illness can impose on a family. And sometimes, it’s just too difficult to do it alone. And when it is, compassionate care services are an option.  

Palliative care and hospice are two compassionate care services that work to improve the quality of life for those living with a serious illness. But how do you know which type of service is best for your loved one? 

The Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care 

Although both palliative care and hospice care share the same main objective of providing pain and symptom relief, there are several important differences. 

Palliative Care 

Palliative care is specialized health care for people living with serious illness. This service aims to ease symptoms, mental strain, and pain for the patient. Patients and doctors may pursue palliative care at any stage of a serious illness. 

Palliative care teams help a patient through physical and emotional pain. “Although these services primarily take place in a hospital setting,” says Dr. Paola Reveco, a palliative care specialist with Summit Health, “there are outpatient palliative care doctors, like myself, who work solely with patients in the office.”   

There are also outpatient palliative care services that can be provided at home, but they are scarce.  

Patients and families pay for palliative care through private medical insurance. 

Hospice Care 

Hospice care is supportive health care that places emphasis on quality of life for patients facing a terminal illness. Eligible patients must have a prognosis of 6 months or less to live based on disease progression as confirmed by two physicians. Hospice is not intended for curative treatment, meaning patients receive quality end-of-life care, but comfort is the main objective, and there is no attempt to cure conditions.  

As with palliative care, hospice teams also help a patient through physical and emotional pain. Care is delivered either at home, or in a hospital, hospice, nursing home, or assisted living facility.  

Patients and families pay for hospice care through private health insurance and medical assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid. 

What Are the Similarities Between Palliative and Hospice Care? 

The two services have a lot in common. They both: 

  • Offer comfort from symptoms. Care teams provide support and comfort to help minimize a patient's pain.  
  • Minimize stress. Diseases and periods of serious illness are stressful times for both the patient and the patient's family. Both services aim to reduce stress through high-quality, compassionate care. 
  • Offer quality-of-life care. Both palliative and hospice care focus on making a patient's life comfortable, whether they no longer have a chance of beating an illness or if they're undergoing treatment. 

Who is Eligible for Hospice and Palliative Care? 

Hospice care eligibility requires two physicians to sign off on it. They need to examine a patient and determine if the disease, illness, or overall health limits life expectancy to 6 months or less. 

Palliative care eligibility involves both the patient and the doctor. If they have the means to do so, the patient can elect to pay for palliative care out of pocket. 

Both services are in place to relieve pain, symptoms, and suffering and to make a difference in the lives of patients and families journeying through disease and end of life. Palliative care, however, exists in a broader sense for patients who are undergoing treatment with a chance of living through the course of their condition. Hospice ensures patients with a terminal illness are comfortable during their last months, weeks, or days. 

Through these two programs, patients and families receive the support needed to make it through a very difficult time in their lives.