When you or a loved one are experiencing severe pain, discomfort, or disability from a serious or long-lasting illness, you may want to consider palliative care or hospice treatment options. While each model aims to provide care and support, they are commonly confused with one another due to their mutual focus on individuals with life-limiting conditions.
But which is most appropriate for your circumstances?
Below is an in-depth look at the similarities, differences, advantages, and disadvantages of palliative care and hospice.
What Is Palliative Care?
Contrary to popular belief, palliative care is for the living, not the dying; it is reserved for patients with a serious but non-life-threatening illness.
Palliative care does not replace existing treatment, but it can provide medical support to treat symptoms of chronic illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, kidney disease, and uncomfortable side effects stemming from other medical treatments.
Palliative care is performed by a team of doctors that cater treatment to individual needs, helping relieve painful symptoms and treat illness.
Specific types of care depend on each unique condition and work in conjunction with current treatment to tackle every aspect of an illness, including emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering.
A debilitating chronic illness makes it nearly impossible to perform day-to-day activities. Older individuals, especially, may require the comprehensive and attentive treatment offered by palliative care providers during a time in their life when they can no longer do everything on their own.
Palliative care can assist you and your family with the undue stress caused by coping with a serious illness.
Palliative Care Definition
Merriam-Webster defines palliate as a verb meaning "to reduce the violence of (a disease); to ease (symptoms) without curing the underlying disease." The World Health Organization defines palliative care as an improvement in the quality of life through healthcare treatment for individuals with a serious illness. Not only does palliative care treat physical suffering, it treats the psychosocial and spiritual effects of the life-limiting disease.
What Is the Goal of Palliative Care?
Through its multi-modal treatment approach, palliative care's main goal is symptom management and pain relief while working toward recovery. On a larger scale, it involves making patients feel better in any way possible.
What Does Palliative Care Involve? Who Qualifies?
Palliative care is suitable for any age and at any stage of a serious but non-life-threatening illness; it can begin from the moment a diagnosis is received. A team of doctors, caregivers, nurses, chaplains, social workers, nutritionists, and other healthcare professionals perform the ongoing alleviating treatments at home, in a hospital, at an extended care facility, or in a nursing home, working with the patient's family to provide holistic support.
Because life-limiting conditions involve a variety of painful symptoms (including difficulty breathing and sleeping, fatigue, anxiety, and depression), treatment approaches will vary. Medication, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nutritional counseling may be utilized to manage symptoms, while emotional suffering can be alleviated through support groups, mental health professionals, and counseling.
Common illnesses associated with palliative care include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Sickle cell anemia
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson's disease
- Liver disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Huntington's disease
Additionally, palliative care specialists can assist with excessive paperwork and any consequential financial or legal issues that arise, including:
- Financial counseling
- Housing assistance
- Transportation assistance
- Health insurance assistance
- Healthcare referrals
Who Pays for Palliative Care?
Palliative care can be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies, and health maintenance organizations. Medicare Part B can cover some palliative care treatment and medications, although the program doesn't refer to it as "palliative care."
- Medicare will cover the treatment, but co-pays or fees may still be required
- Medicaid for low-income individuals can cover some treatments and medications, but benefits vary by state
- Private health insurers will offer palliative care coverage in their long-term or chronic care policies
What Is Hospice Care?
Unlike palliative care, hospice care is intended for individuals diagnosed with an end-of-life illness. After a devastating diagnosis, it is vital to ease pain and prepare for an arduous process. Hospice care typically tends to people with under six months to live; it can be performed at home or in a hospital, nursing home, or hospice care center.
In essence, hospice care can be an extension of palliative care when an individual's prognosis is terminal.
Hospice Care Definition
Hospice is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a program designed to provide palliative care and emotional support to the terminally ill in a home or homelike setting so that quality of life is maintained and family members may be active participants in care."
What Is the Goal of Hospice Care?
Hospice care's goal differs from palliative care's goal in a major way. Hospice care provides patients with terminal illness as much comfort and support as possible from their preferred location. Under hospice care, patients forgo any curative measures; however, if conditions improve, patients can choose to opt out of hospice care and return later, if needed.
What Does Hospice Care Involve?
Like palliative care, hospice care takes a holistic approach to ease your and your family's medical, emotional, and spiritual suffering. An expert staff of doctors, nurses, spiritual advisors, and social workers will provide services at home or in a hospital, nursing home, or hospice care center. Hospice workers are available over the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Hospice care can help make sense of and complete important insurance paperwork, find transportation, and assist with bathing and personal caretaking. Alternative therapies can also be provided, such as acupuncture, massage, and grief counseling.
Some hospice facilities may offer bereavement services to loved ones for more than a year after the passing of a patient.
Who Qualifies for Hospice Care?
Hospice care is best considered when treatments to cure a serious illness cause more damage than relief. While a physician's order is not required, you can bring it up with your doctor to discuss the pros and cons of hospice care. People often wait too long to begin receiving assistance, which could have alleviated severe pain and discomfort.
A large portion of patients seeking hospice care are diagnosed with cancer. Other major illnesses treated include dementia and heart disease.
If hospice care is required prior to the six-month period, speak with your or your loved one's doctor to find out ways to pay for services.
Who Pays for Hospice Care?
Hospice care can be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance companies. Medicare covers 100 percent of hospice care under Medicare Part A if the patient meets admission criteria. Private health insurance companies can cover all hospice costs, but benefits will vary. Keep in mind that hospice care doesn't cover medication, treatment, or services for unrelated conditions — only treatments and services related to end-of-life comfort.
Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care
One key difference between palliative care and hospice care is that palliative care is for any patient not terminally ill. Some hospice care providers may offer palliative care, but it isn't standard. Hospice care is typically reserved for patients with fewer than six months to live, while palliative care has no time restrictions. Both treatment models provide symptom relief.
Hospice care differs from palliative care because it prevents patients from receiving medical treatments geared toward curing their condition. Instead, hospice care takes a comfort-oriented approach. Palliative care patients, on the other hand, can receive comfort care on top of curative treatment.
In terms of coverage, public and private programs can pay for all charges related to hospice care. Palliative care, however, isn't as widely covered. Medicare and private insurance companies may cover most medications and treatments, but not all. It is important to check coverage to ensure you understand payment responsibilities and other policy restrictions.
If you think palliative care or hospice care might be right for you or a loved one, give us a call to discuss your specific situation.