Hospice Vs. Palliative Care

The differences between hospice and palliative care.

Hospice care and palliative care are very similar when it comes to the most important issue for dying people: care. Most people have heard of hospice care and have a general idea of what services hospice provides. What they don’t know or what may become confusing is that hospice provides “palliative care,” and that palliative care is both a method of administering “comfort” care and increasingly, an administered system of palliative care offered most prevalently by hospitals. As an adjunct or supplement to some of the more “traditional” care options, both hospice and palliative care protocols call for patients to receive a combined approach where medications, day-to-day care, equipment, bereavement counseling, and symptom treatment are administered through a single program. Where palliative care programs and hospice care programs differ greatly is in the care location, timing, payment, and eligibility for services.

Place

Hospice

Hospice programs far outnumber palliative care programs. Generally, once enrolled through a referral from the primary care physician, a patient’s hospice care program, which is overseen by a team of hospice professionals, is administered in the home. Hospice often relies upon the family caregiver, as well as a visiting hospice nurse. While hospice can provide round-the-clock care in a nursing home, a specially equipped hospice facility, or, on occasion, in a hospital, this is not the norm.

Palliative Care

Palliative care teams are made up of doctors, nurses, and other professional medical caregivers, often at the facility where a patient will first receive treatment. These individuals will administer or oversee most of the ongoing comfort-care patients receive. While palliative care can be administered in the home, it is most common to receive palliative care in an institution such as a hospital, extended care facility, or nursing home that is associated with a palliative care team.

Timing

Hospice

You must generally be considered to be terminal or within six months of death to be eligible for most hospice programs or to receive hospice benefits from your insurance.

Palliative Care

There are no time restrictions. Palliative care can be received by patients at any time, at any stage of illness whether it be terminal or not.

Payment

Hospice

Before considering hospice, it is important to check on policy limits for payment. While hospice can be considered an all-inclusive treatment in terms of payment (hospice programs cover almost all expenses) insurance coverage for hospice can vary. Some hospice programs offer subsidized care for the economically disadvantaged, or for patients not covered under their own insurance. Many hospice programs are covered under Medicare.

Palliative Care

Since this service will generally be administered through your hospital or regular medical provider, it is likely that it is covered by your regular medical insurance. It is important to note, however, that each item will be billed separately, just as they are with regular hospital and doctor visits. If you receive outpatient palliative care, prescriptions will be billed separately and are only covered as provided by your regular insurance. In-patient care however, often does cover prescription charges. For more details, check with your insurance company, doctor, or hospital administration.

Treatment

Hospice

Most programs concentrate on comfort rather than aggressive disease abatement. By electing to forego extensive life-prolonging treatment, hospice patients can concentrate on getting the most out of the time they have left, without some of the negative side-effects that life prolonging treatments can have. Most hospice patients can achieve a level of comfort that allows them to concentrate on the emotional and practical issues of dying.

Palliative Care

Since there are no time limits on when you can receive palliative care, it acts to fill the gap for patients who want and need comfort at any stage of any disease, whether terminal or chronic. In a palliative care program, there is no expectation that life-prolonging therapies will be avoided.

It is important to note, however, that there will be exceptions to the general precepts outlined. There are some hospice programs that will provide life-prolonging treatments, and there are some palliative care programs that concentrate mostly on end-of-life care. Consult your physician or care-administrator for the best service for you.

Reprinted from “Hospice vs. Palliative Care,” by Ann Villet-Lagomarsino. Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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