Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

Hospice CareMany of my clients are not sure what the difference is between palliative care verses hospice care. If I have someone dying form Lou Gehrig’s Disease who may be concerned they will need to go to the hospital for fear of respiratory distress palliative care would be the best option for this client. Palliative care would enable this client to have a home health aide and nurse from the palliative care program. Some equipment and medications may not be available to a palliative care client like a hospital bed or morphine, but medical equipment and medications  can be easily obtained from the medical supply store and pharmacy in your area. If I have a client who knows there is no life saving techniques for a disease like cancer or congestive heart failure they may be comfortable staying at home and dying with loved ones around in their own bed. Hospice care would be best for this situation since it would offer the client and family a full range of services eliminating the need for further hospital or doctor visits. Both palliative care and hospice care nurses can pronounce a client at the end-of-their-life so they will go from the home, hospital or nursing home directly to the funeral home.

There are differences between Palliative Care verses Hospice Care … and yet, there is a relationship between the two.

By definition, palliative care focuses on relieving symptoms that are related to chronic illnesses, such as cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, AIDS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and other neurological diseases.

Palliative Care can be used at any stage of illness — not just the advanced stages.

Hospice care is palliative by nature. The illness, however, has progressed to a point where curative treatment is no longer desired or beneficial. Hospice care supports the patient and their families while focusing on relieving symptoms and offering comfort from pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, insomnia, constipation, etc.

Treatment Differences

Treatments are not limited with palliative care and can range from conservative to aggressive/curative.

Hospice care treatments are limited and focus on treating symptoms only: alleviating pain and symptoms without eliminating the cause of symptoms. The goal is no longer to cure, but to promote comfort.

Treatment Timing

Palliative care can be considered at anytime during the course of a chronic illness.

With hospice care, Medicare requires that a physician certify that a patient’s condition is terminal. The physician must certify that a patient’s life expectancy is six months or less.

Place of Treatment

Both palliative and hospice care can be delivered at any location, home, nursing home or hospital. Palliative care services are typically provided through regular physician and nursing visits.

Hospice care services are more inclusive than palliative care services. Hospice care includes physician services, nursing services, social worker, spiritual care, bereavement care and volunteers. In some cases physical, occupational, speech and dietary therapy services, as well as other counseling services deemed necessary as part of the hospice holistic care plan to manage terminal symptoms and provide support for the individual and their family.


The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization provides quality resource materials and information.

The National Hospice Foundation and the Hospice Foundation offer valuable supporting resources as well.

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