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How Hospice Care is Different from Palliative Care?

HomeWellnessHow Hospice Care is Different from Palliative Care?

Determining medical care for a loved one is a challenging time for any family. What makes the most sense for continued healthcare? When does a decision need to be made, and what are my options? There is a lot to consider when making these choices, especially if a diagnosis was recently made. 

Several options are available when inpatient treatment in a hospital is no longer the proper level of care. Although the terms hospice care and palliative care are known, the differences between the two aren’t as widely understood. The more information available, the better informed you can be when making a tough choice on how to care for your loved one going forward. 

When To Consider a Hospice or Palliative Level of Care

While hospice care and palliative care are not the same thing, there are similarities. One being the diagnoses, or serious illnesses, that tend to trigger the need for this level of care. 

Below is a list that helps understand when hospice or palliative care become appropriate for you or a loved one. 

Diagnoses That Create A Need for Hospice Care or Palliative Care

  • ALS
  • Alzheimer’s 
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Dementia
  • Heart failure
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Neurological disease 
  • Organ failure
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Renal disease
  • Sepsis and concomitant end-stage disease 
  • Stroke

When any of these diagnoses are made, attention to comfort and alleviation of pain are of the utmost focus. If the goal is to increase the person’s quality of life, hospice care or palliative care are the next step. 

Deciding between hospice and palliative care comes down to several factors. In general, the main difference is the inclusion of medical treatment or not. If you or your loved one will no longer be continuing treatment for the disease, hospice care is most likely the right fit. If treatment will be continued, then palliative care is a more appropriate choice. 

Let’s look at each type of care in more depth, to explore the similarities and differences between choosing hospice care and palliative care. 


Hospice Care 

We have all heard of hospice care, but what it actually entails is worth exploring. There are many scenarios in which someone chooses hospice care as an option. 

One main reason is a terminal illness for which treatment has become ineffective. Cancer, for example, where doctors can no longer administer medications or radiation to reduce cancer growth, is one version of a disease that’s beyond medical care. Another example is when someone chooses to stop treatment for a terminal illness, deciding to live the remainder of life without medication, radiation, and other versions of invasive medical treatment. 

Hospice care is a solution for people in these types of situations. Designed with quality of life in mind, hospice care includes pain management, a reduction or elimination of medical tests, and an overall focus on comfort. When a doctor administers a prognosis of six months or less, that is also a time where hospice care becomes the right choice. 

What Hospice Care Provides

When you elect the hospice level of care for you or a loved one, there is a list of what that will include. Below is a comprehensive list of what to expect from hospice care. 

  • Medications, medical supplies, and equipment 
  • Education for family members on how to support someone in hospice care
  • Pain and symptom management
  • Access to medical services if needed
  • Physical therapy, or other forms of therapy needed
  • Counseling and bereavement care for family members and loved ones

The Benefits of Hospice Care

End-of-life is a hard phase for everyone. The popularity of hospice care is a direct result of what it provides while someone is facing their last months, weeks, and days of life. At the hospice level of care, people with less than six months to live are given access to a 24-hour, on-call nurse and other healthcare professionals as needed. Depending on one’s specific needs, around-the-clock care can be the difference between full pain reduction and suffering. 

Hospice care also provides any and all medical equipment that a doctor has deemed necessary. Even though medical treatment is no longer being administered to combat the serious illness, there are devices and machines that contribute to comfort and alleviation of symptoms. For example, a person with cancer may need a suction aspirator for mucus. This small appliance may not seem like much, but the quality of life it affords versus its absence is astounding. This and any similar mechanisms needed are provided under hospice care.

While hospice care focuses on the comfort of the person with the terminal illness, it also supports the family members and friends who care for that person. The bereavement process is tough to navigate alone. Hospice care allows access to social workers, therapists, healthcare aids, and other trained professionals to help you navigate these difficult decisions. 

Hospice care may be the right choice for you or your loved one. If, however, medical treatment will still be applied to a serious illness, then palliative care might be the next right choice. 


Palliative Care 

A medical term we are often less familiar with is palliative care. Just like hospice care, palliative care is designed to alleviate the pain and other side effects of a serious illness. 

What makes it different from hospice though is, palliative care includes ongoing treatment of the medical condition. Instead of you and your doctors deciding medical remedies will no longer stop the illness’s progression, palliative care accompanies the ongoing management of the serious illness. For example, a patient still receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation for cancer is better suited for palliative care than hospice. 

In 2018, 1.6 million people sought palliative care services in the United States. Many begin the process right after receiving a diagnosis, to both remain focused on comfort but to also continue to battle the disease and its symptoms. The combination of care and treatment brings a better quality of life to those who choose palliative care. 

The Goals of Palliative Care

Since palliative care includes the ongoing treatment of a serious illness, the purpose of it needs to be defined, to differentiate it from hospice care. 

Palliative care will help with:

  • Comprehension of the illness, the expected timeline, and options for treatment
  • Reduction and management of stressors
  • Identification of all parts of your life that influence your treatment decisions: values, goals, religious and cultural beliefs, forms of care you do or don’t want, and the quality of life you desire
  • Officially determining and putting into writing the end of life plans for you and your loved ones, including who will make medical decisions moving forward 

Comparing and Contrasting Hospice Care and Palliative Care

Hospice care and palliative care are both considered appropriate levels when a diagnosis is made for a serious illness. As discussed above, there are many ways to provide comfort and alleviation of pain and other uncomfortable symptoms. 


Hospice care and palliative care are two options for the management of a diagnosis. Ideally the information provided allows you to make the decision that’s right for you and your family during this difficult time. 

You may want to read more,

pearls of wisdom
Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.


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