Hospice vs Palliative Care: What’s the Difference

Hospice vs Palliative Care: What’s the Difference

Last Updated on June 19, 2024 by Frank Davis

If either you or someone you know has faced a severe illness, you have probably heard the terms palliative care and hospice care used. While both of these terms refer to a level of comfort and relief provided to a patient, there are some critical differences in hospice vs palliative care. To receive the right type of care befitting the circumstances, it’s a good idea to understand how they differ.

Hospice and palliative care are terms that are sometimes even used interchangeably, which just adds to the confusion. However, they are different even though there are commonalities. Here are the differences between hospice vs palliative care:

What Is Hospice?

Hospice care is for people who have received the news from their doctor that they will likely be unable to recover from a serious condition, such as cancer. The objective of hospice care is to increase the level of their comfort by reducing their pain. By choosing hospice care you opt to less invasive treatments, less hospitalization, pain management, and symptom management. It is also focused on helping a patient’s family get prepared for the end of their lives.

To enter hospice care, a doctor needs to make a formal assessment that a patient has less than six months left to live. This type of care is usually provided within the patient’s home, and done so either by family members or professional caregivers. However, an increasingly popular option being taken today is hospice care at home (outpatient hospice care). It is a much more enjoyable location for a patient to receive their hospice care than a nursing home or hospital. As of 2016, there were 4,300 hospice care agencies in the United States.

Hospice care involves a number of important people and roles, including:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Family Members
  • Clergy
  • Counselors
  • Social Workers

All of these play vital roles in coping with grief and other strong emotions that come with the end of a patient’s life.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization released a report in 2020 that revealed 53.8% of Medicare beneficiaries had received hospice care for less than 30 days in 2018. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that 27.9% of them received hospice care for less than a week before they died. While 30 days is already very little time to receive hospice care, a week is definitely not enough to receive the full benefits provided by it.

When it comes to hospice care, it is becoming an increasingly popular choice for end-of-life care. Hospice care can be given practically anywhere, be it a patient’s home, an assisted living facility, a nursing home, an inpatient hospital, or a hospice care center. While it isn’t designed to treat or cure severe conditions, it makes life as comfortable as it can be for a patient’s last days.

Someone receiving hospice team will have a member of their hospice team visit them frequently and consistently. They will also have someone available to speak to 24/7 if they need to. This type of care can also get covered by Medicare and private insurance policies.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is designed to reduce the pain patients suffer from, as well as ease other problems with a serious, but not life-threatening, illness. This type of care helps people to live more comfortably while suffering from health issues like cancer, kidney disease, and others. They may also receive palliative care if they are suffering from side effects of treatments being received if they have a condition like cancer or kidney disease.

This type of care is not designed to replace any treatment method. Instead, it is a complimentary level of care that reduces the discomfort a patient experiences while undergoing treatment. This could include relief from nausea, shortness of breath, or something else. The chief difference between hospice vs palliative care is that palliative care is provided to a patient who is not told they have less than six months left to live and can still receive treatment.

Essentially, palliative care exists to reduce the suffering a patient experiences from symptoms they have. These symptoms will either be from a medical condition or the treatment of a medical condition.

A patient’s palliative care team will work with them, their family, and their other doctors to provide the medical, social, and emotional support they need. A palliative care team will usually include:

  • Specialist Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Social Workers
  • Nutritionists
  • Clergy

Palliative care can be received in a hospital, nursing home, outpatient palliative care clinic, home, or other specialized clinics. So who pays for hospice and palliative care? This kind of care is usually covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance policies. If a patient is a veteran, they also have the possibility of receiving palliative care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

If the primary treatment method a patient is receiving isn’t working, then a doctor may recommend that the patient transition into hospice care. This only occurs if the doctor assesses that the patient has less than six months left to live. Palliative care may continue being provided, but become focused on providing care that increases a patient’s level of comfort.


A large number of people die at hospitals and nursing homes, which is not what they would have preferred to happen. If you want to make sure that does not happen to either yourself or a loved one, you should understand the difference between hospice vs palliative care. Now that you have a better understanding of how they differ, you or a loved one can receive the proper end-of-life care to manage any pain or unwanted symptoms. Also, it will be far less likely that you or someone you know will die while in a hospital receiving treatment that isn’t wanted or needed.

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