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When a chronic or terminal illness strikes, it affects every facet of the patient’s life. However, the effect of the diagnosis goes beyond the patient to alter the lives of the patient’s family and friends. A great deal of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual support is necessary for everyone involved, but the issues involved go beyond these.

Several care choices additionally are available to the patient and in some degree to those family and friends who help to care for the patient. Among these choices are palliative care and hospice care. When these concepts are introduced, many people are unclear about what they entail. This confusion is understandable, since both types of care share some practices in common. However, they also are separated by fundamental differences. Defining what is hospice care and what is palliative care helps patients and those who love them make better informed decisions.

What is Hospice Care?

Any hospice care definition must begin by noting that this is end of life care. In other words, the patient has a terminal illness, and the primary doctor believes that the patient has fewer than six months to live if the disease progresses as it is expected to do. Thus, people who are candidates for hospice services generally are no longer receiving treatments that are meant to cure their condition. Instead, the focus is on enhancing comfort and helping the patient to make the most of their time.

To that end, hospice care frequently includes medications and treatments that are designed to promote comfort and minimize suffering. Hospice patients may receive assistance with bathing, dressing, eating and completing many other routine tasks. In addition, they are provided with emotional and spiritual support that is designed to offer them peace and comfort. Practical preparations further are considered in hospice. Patients receiving this type of care may receive help with wills and other financial matters. Hospice care most often is provided in the patient’s home or in an assisted living or retirement facility.

This type of care recognizes the emotional and physical toll that caring for a loved one with a terminal illness can exact. Accordingly, many family caregivers also receive hospice benefits that assist them in a difficult time.

What is Palliative Care?

The palliative care definition states that these services may be offered at any stage of a chronic or terminal illness. This means that the patient still may be receiving curative treatments for the condition that is limiting their ability to lead an independent lifestyle. Palliative services usually are a part of hospice services. When they are, curative treatments are no longer being attempted.

The main goal of palliative services is to decrease the suffering of the patient. This may include efforts to reduce pain and relieve mental and emotional stress. Accordingly, these services enhance the patient’s quality of life, allowing them to be more active and to enjoy healthier relationships with friends and family.

This type of care is provided by several medical professionals like doctors, nurses and support staff. Each member of the team works in concert to ensure the patient’s best possible quality of life. Patients typically receive this treatment while in the hospital or an extended-care facility. On rare occasions, such care also is provided in the patient’s home.

Additionally, support will be offered to close family and friends who are assisting with caring for the patient. This support ensures better quality of care and better quality of life for everyone who is affected by the chronic or terminal illness.

What’s the Difference Between Palliative Care vs Hospice Care?

Both palliative and hospice services are aimed at minimizing the distress and discomfort that are experienced by people with a condition that limits their ability to lead an independent lifestyle. People receiving these services receive alleviation of physical symptoms and emotional stress. However, these two services are distinct from each other.

1. Objective

Palliative services are available at any time to any patient who is suffering from a chronic or terminal illness. The objective is to provide support for people who are dealing with a life-limiting condition. No time limits are placed on the receipt of palliative services. They can begin with the diagnosis of a disease and continue through to end-of-life care, if necessary. Life-prolonging or curative treatments may continue while the patient receives palliative services.

Hospice services are aimed specifically at people whom doctors believe have six months or fewer to live. Accordingly, any curative or life-prolonging treatments are no longer being attempted. Patient comfort is prioritized, and there is an additional emphasis on end-of-life planning. This type of care is nearly always provided in the patient’s home, whether that is their family home or an extended-care facility.

2. Eligibility

Anyone who is diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness may be eligible for palliative services. The primary physician and the patient may decide to begin these treatments at any time, whether the patient’s condition is considered terminal or not.

Two physicians must concur that the patient has six months to live in order to trigger hospice treatment eligibility. The doctors agree that further life-prolonging treatments will be of no particular value to the patient, which means that the focus of care must switch to patient comfort.

3. Treatment

Patients receiving palliative services also may be undergoing life-sustaining or prolonging treatments. Hospice patients are no longer undergoing such treatments. In both types of care, the priority is on ensuring patient comfort, both physically and emotionally. This may include the administration of prescription medications, visits with a therapist and other services designed to promote well-being.

4. Cost of care

Hospice typically is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and the Veteran’s Administration. These benefits may cover the entire cost, but sometimes minimal co-pays are required. Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance all may provide coverage for palliative care. The amount of coverage depends upon the specific policy.

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