Understanding the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice

Understanding the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice

As primary care providers, we often navigate the sensitive terrain of managing chronic and terminal illnesses in our patients. Understanding the distinction between palliative care and hospice is crucial in guiding them and their families through these challenging times. Here’s a detailed exploration of the key differences.

Palliative Care: Comprehensive Support for Serious Illness

Palliative care is a multidisciplinary approach designed to improve the quality of life for patients with serious, chronic illnesses. It focuses on relieving symptoms, pain, and stress, regardless of the patient’s stage of disease or the need for other therapies. This care can be provided alongside curative treatments and is applicable early in the diagnosis of a serious illness.

Palliative care teams often include doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains who work collaboratively to address the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient. They also assist in navigating healthcare decisions, coordinating treatments, and supporting the family.

Hospice Care: Specialized Care for End-of-Life

Hospice, on the other hand, is a form of palliative care specifically for patients who are nearing the end of life, typically with a prognosis of six months or less if the disease follows its usual course. The focus shifts from curative treatment to comfort care, prioritizing symptom relief and quality of life.

Hospice care is usually provided at home, but it can also be available in nursing homes, hospice centers, and hospitals. The hospice team, which includes many of the same disciplines as palliative care, works to create a care plan that alleviates pain and addresses the emotional and spiritual needs of both the patient and their family.

Key Differences

Stage of Illness: Palliative care is available to patients at any stage of a serious illness, whereas hospice care is reserved for those who are terminally ill and have approximately six months or less to live.

Treatment Goals: While palliative care can be provided alongside curative treatments, hospice care is offered when a patient decides to forgo curative treatments and focus on comfort and quality of life.

Location of Care: Both types of care can be provided in various settings, but hospice care is more commonly associated with home care or hospice-specific facilities.

Insurance and Payment: The cost of palliative care is often covered by insurance as part of the patient’s treatment plan, while hospice care is usually covered under Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans as a separate benefit.

As primary care providers, we play a pivotal role in educating our patients and their families about the available care options and guiding them in making informed decisions. Understanding the nuances between palliative and hospice care allows us to better support our patients through the continuum of their illness, ensuring they receive the most appropriate care tailored to their needs.


nia.nih.gov – What Are Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

vitas.com – Hospice vs. Palliative Care: What’s the Difference?

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Hospice vs Palliative care: A comprehensive review

verywellhealth.com – What’s the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice?

angelsgracehospice.com – Palliative Care Vs Hospice Care: What’s The Difference?

hebrewseniorlife.org – Understanding the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care

About the Author

Kimberly Vass-Eudy, DO

Senior Director of Clinical Operations