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If you have a serious illness or are a caregiver of someone planning end-of-life care, knowing the meanings between palliative care and hospice care can help you make an informed decision when the time comes to transition to one of these healthcare settings.
Palliative care is a form of care that focuses on improving your quality of life and that of your family when you are living with a serious illness. It focuses on your whole-person health rather than only on your condition. If you are receiving palliative care, your treatment plan may focus on reducing symptoms of your illness and on improving secondary conditions such as depression, sleep deprivation, and side effects of medications.
Palliative care may be given in various healthcare settings, such as at the hospital, a residential care facility, or your home. Anyone can receive this type of care regardless of age or the severity of their condition.
When you receive palliative care, you are treated by various healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, physical therapists, counselors, and nutritionists. If you need spiritual care, your palliative care team may even include a chaplain. Your palliative care team will depend mainly on your recovery needs and level of care.
Comfort care and end-of-life care are both terms that describe the type of care you receive when you are near the end of your life and are no longer receiving treatment for your illness. It is highly similar to palliative care in providing you with holistic care that focuses on your physical, social, emotional, and spiritual health. Comfort care and end-of-life care may include palliative care, hospice care, or a combination of both.
Sometimes, palliative care is given as part of hospice care, and both types share many similarities. For instance, the goal of both palliative and hospice care is to improve your quality of life and help you find relief from painful and severe symptoms and side effects of treatment. Both types of care also focus on whole-person health. However, there remain many differences between palliative care and hospice care.
You may want to consider palliative care if you or your loved one has a serious illness or chronic condition that requires long, intensive care or that causes severe physical symptoms and/or emotional distress. For example, cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and kidney failure are some of the many conditions that can benefit from palliative care.
A person may transition from palliative care to hospice care if their doctor thinks they have no longer than six months to live. Sometimes, it can be difficult for doctors to predict exactly how long it will take for a particular disease to run its course or how long a person has left to live if their health is in decline. In these circumstances, it is important to consider how transitioning to hospice care could improve your quality of life during your final months.
According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), doctors should strongly consider referring chronically ill patients to hospice care if they spend more than half their time in bed, are unable to function efficiently, and are experiencing both physical and psychological distress. According to NLM, hospice referrals are usually necessary when the patient’s condition has progressively declined to the point that their highest priority is to take control of their healthcare and achieve the greatest possible comfort in their homes as they near the end of life.
Talk to your doctor if you think you may need hospice care but aren’t sure when you should transition out of palliative care. Your doctor will discuss your options and the benefits of transitioning to hospice care based on your condition and unique circumstances.
Taking advantage of hospice care will result in access to better quality care and more time with your loved ones. Additionally, patients who plan their care in advance have higher satisfaction with their care, given how they can make decisions that align with their end-of-life wishes.
Consult with your healthcare provider if you or your loved one is interested in learning more about palliative care or hospice care. Your doctor can refer you to a palliative or hospice care specialist who can answer all your questions and help you determine which of these services may be more ideal.
Palliative care and hospice care are covered by major health insurance providers, including Medicare. The exact benefits covered will vary based on your health plan.