Difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care (Palliative vs Hospice Care)

Difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care (Palliative vs Hospice Care)

Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of life for patients with serious illnesses at any stage and can be provided alongside curative treatments, whereas hospice care is a specialised form of palliative care for patients in the final stages of a terminal illness, focusing on comfort and support when curative treatments are no longer pursued.

This article delves into the difference between palliative care and hospice care, shedding light on their purpose, eligibility criteria, services, and timing, helping you make informed decisions.

Introduction to Palliative and Hospice Care

When it comes to managing chronic illnesses and end-of-life care, understanding the options available is crucial for patients and their families. Two healthcare approaches that often come up in these discussions are palliative care and hospice care.

Palliative and hospice care aim to alleviate pain and improve quality of life, but they are distinct in various aspects.

Defining Palliative and Hospice Care

  • Palliative Care: Palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach that aims to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life for people with chronic, serious, or life-threatening illnesses. This type of care is not limited to end-of-life situations and can be provided at any stage of an illness. The focus is on managing symptoms, controlling pain, and providing emotional and psychological support.
  • Hospice Care: Hospice care, on the other hand, is a type of palliative care specifically catering to patients in the terminal phase of an illness, typically when the patient is expected to live six months or less. It focuses on comfort care rather than curative treatment, attending to the patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during the end of life.

Examining the Difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care

Timing and Eligibility

  • Palliative Care: Can be initiated at any stage of an illness, regardless of whether it is curable, chronic, or life-threatening. Patients can receive palliative care alongside curative treatment.
  • Hospice Care: Generally recommended when the patient has a life expectancy of six months or less and curative treatments are no longer beneficial or desired.

Goals and Focus

  • Palliative Care: Primarily focuses on improving the quality of life and managing symptoms. It can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes curative treatments.
  • Hospice Care: Centers around comfort and supporting the highest quality of life possible in the patient’s final days. It ceases curative treatments but continues with medications that alleviate symptoms.

Location of Care

  • Palliative Care: Can be provided in various settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, or the patient’s home.
  • Hospice Care: Usually provided in the patient’s home but can also be in hospice facilities, nursing homes, or hospitals, depending on the patient’s needs and preferences.

Team Composition

  • Palliative Care: Involves an interdisciplinary team, typically including doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists tailored to the patient’s needs.
  • Hospice Care: It comprises an interdisciplinary team but often includes spiritual counsellors and bereavement specialists.


  • Palliative Care: Some palliative services might be covered depending on the insurance, but curative treatments will usually be billed separately.
  • Hospice Care: Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurances have hospice benefits that cover medications, supplies, and services related to terminal illnesses.

Family Involvement

  • Palliative Care: Supports the patient and may involve the family in care planning and decision-making.
  • Hospice Care: Holistically attends to the patient and provides respite care, counselling, and bereavement support for family members.

Difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care

AspectPalliative CareHospice Care
PurposeTo alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with serious illnesses, regardless of life expectancy.To provide comfort and support to patients in the terminal phase of an illness (typically last 6 months of life).
TimingIt can be initiated at any stage of an illness, alongside curative treatments.Initiated when curative treatments are no longer effective or desired, and life expectancy is around six months or less.
GoalsSymptom management, pain control, emotional support and can include curative treatments.Comfort care focuses on quality of life, pain control, and symptom management; curative treatments are ceased.
LocationIt can be provided in various settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, or at home.Mostly provided in the patient’s home, but it can also be in hospice facilities, nursing homes, or hospitals.
EligibilityAny patient with a serious, chronic or life-threatening illness, irrespective of the stage or prognosis.Patients with a life-limiting illness and a prognosis of six months or less.
Team CompositionInterdisciplinary team including doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists tailored to the patient’s needs.Interdisciplinary team including doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual counsellors, and bereavement specialists.
ServicesMedical care to manage symptoms, pain management, psychological counselling, social services, and coordination of care.Medical care for comfort, pain management, counselling, spiritual care, bereavement support, and respite care for family members.
Insurance CoverageThey may be covered by insurance, but curative treatments are usually billed separately. Some services might not be covered depending on the plan.Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurances have hospice benefits that cover almost all aspects of hospice care.
Family InvolvementFocuses on patient support; family may be involved in care planning and decision-making.Provides support to both the patient and family, including respite care, counselling, and bereavement support for family members.
The Difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care (Palliative vs Hospice Care)

What kind of quality of life can be expected under palliative vs hospice care?

While palliative care seeks to improve the quality of life throughout the course of an illness with a possibility of active daily living, hospice care concentrates on providing a dignified and comfortable end-of-life experience.

Under palliative care, patients can expect an enhanced quality of life, even as they may continue aggressive treatments for their illnesses.

The goal is to manage symptoms such as pain, nausea, or fatigue and address emotional or psychological issues. This support is aimed at allowing patients to remain active and engaged in daily life to the best of their ability.

In contrast, hospice care focuses on the quality of life for patients who are near the end of life. Here, the focus shifts from curing the illness to providing comfort. Hospice care aims to ensure that the patient’s final days are as pain-free as possible and lived with dignity.

Emotional and spiritual support for both the patient and their families are emphasized, and the environment is often homelike, which can be soothing for the patient.

Is pain management a focus in both palliative and hospice care?

Pain management is integral to both palliative and hospice care, but the context differs – in palliative care, it’s part of an overall treatment plan, while in hospice care, it’s focused on end-of-life comfort.

In palliative care, pain management is one of the primary goals. Patients with chronic or serious illnesses often experience pain as a symptom. Palliative care teams work to alleviate this pain alongside treating other symptoms and side effects.

This is done through medication, therapies, and sometimes interventions that work in tandem with curative treatments, aiming to enable patients to continue with daily activities and maintain a better quality of life.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is primarily for end-of-life care. At this stage, curative treatments are usually stopped, and the focus shifts entirely to comfort. Pain management becomes paramount in hospice care to ensure patients are as comfortable as possible in their final days.

This involves using medications to relieve pain and complementary therapies such as massage or music therapy to provide additional comfort.

Can a patient be on palliative care for years?

A patient can be on palliative care for years. Palliative care is not just for end-of-life scenarios; it is a form of care aimed at improving the quality of life for patients with serious or chronic illnesses. This includes managing symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and nausea and addressing emotional or psychological issues.

Some patients might require palliative care for an extended period due to chronic illnesses like heart failure, COPD, cancer, or dementia.

These conditions can span many years, and palliative care can be utilized at any stage of the illness. It can be provided alongside curative or life-prolonging treatments, which can be ongoing for several years.

Additionally, palliative care can evolve over time to meet the changing needs and preferences of the patient. Early in the disease course, the focus might be on managing symptoms while undergoing aggressive treatment. Later, the focus may shift more towards comfort and quality of life.

Can hospice care be received at home?

Hospice care can be received at home, and, in fact, home-based care is one of the most common settings for hospice services. The primary goal of hospice care is to ensure that patients spend their final days in comfort and dignity, and for many, being in the familiar surroundings of the home offers emotional benefits and a sense of peace.

When hospice care is provided at home, a specialised team of healthcare professionals and caregivers collaborates to offer a range of services tailored to the patient’s needs. This includes medical care focused on pain and symptom management, emotional and psychological support, as well as spiritual counselling if desired.

The hospice team usually comprises physicians, nurses, social workers, counsellors, therapists, and trained volunteers. They work together to support the patient and provide education and respite services to family members.

How do cultural and spiritual beliefs impact the approach to palliative and hospice care?

Cultural and spiritual beliefs can significantly impact how individuals perceive illness, pain, end-of-life care, and death, making them essential palliative and hospice care considerations.

  • Perception of Illness and Pain: Some cultures may view illness and pain as a natural part of life or as spiritual tests. This can influence patients’ willingness to communicate about their symptoms and their preferences for pain management.
  • Decision Making: In some cultures, decision-making is a collective family process, while in others, it’s more individualistic. Understanding these dynamics is crucial in care planning and ensuring that the patient’s and family’s values are respected.
  • Communication Styles: Cultural backgrounds influence how openly individuals talk about illness or death. In some cultures, discussing death is taboo, which might necessitate a more cautious approach to communication.
  • Spiritual Practices: Many individuals find solace in spiritual practices, which can be integral to coping with illness or preparing for end-of-life. Integrating spiritual counselling or rituals that align with the patient’s beliefs can provide comfort.
  • Rituals and Bereavement: Cultural and spiritual beliefs often dictate death and bereavement rituals. Respecting and facilitating these rituals is important for honouring the patient’s life and supporting the family’s grieving process.

What role do social workers play in palliative care?

Social workers play a critical role in palliative care by addressing the psychosocial needs of patients and their families. As part of an interdisciplinary team, they focus on the emotional, social, and practical aspects of living with a serious illness.

  • Counselling and Emotional Support: Social workers provide counselling to help patients and families cope with the emotional challenges, such as anxiety, depression, or grief, that often accompany serious illnesses.
  • Care Coordination and Communication: They facilitate communication between the patient, family, and medical team. They advocate for the patient’s wishes and help coordinate care among various healthcare providers.
  • Resource Navigation: Social workers assist in navigating healthcare systems and connect patients and families with community resources, such as support groups or financial assistance programs.
  • Advance Care Planning: They provide guidance in completing advance directives, making decisions about the type of care desired, and discussing end-of-life preferences.
  • Practical Assistance: This can include help with transportation, housing, or coordinating home care services.
  • Family Support: Social workers support family members by providing education, counselling, and assistance in managing the stress of caregiving.

What role do bereavement specialists play in hospice care?

Bereavement specialists play a vital role in hospice care by providing support to families and loved ones before and after the death of a patient. The grieving process can be emotionally overwhelming, and bereavement specialists offer guidance and resources to help individuals cope with loss.

  • Preparation for Loss: Prior to a patient’s passing, bereavement specialists may work with families to prepare them for the impending loss, facilitating conversations and helping them process emotions.
  • Counselling and Emotional Support: After the patient’s death, they provide counselling to family members and friends, helping them process grief and adjust to life without their loved one. They may employ individual counselling, group therapy, or refer to specialized grief counsellors.
  • Education: Bereavement specialists educate family members about the grieving process, helping them understand that what they’re experiencing is normal and guiding them through various stages of grief.
  • Memorial Services: They may assist families in planning memorial services or rituals that honour the memory of the deceased.
  • Connection to Resources: Bereavement specialists can connect grieving individuals to support groups, literature, and other community resources that may be helpful.
  • Follow-Up: They often maintain contact with the family for several months following the loss to provide ongoing support and ensure they cope effectively.

Conclusion: Palliative vs Hospice Care

The choice between hospice and palliative care is a significant and often emotional decision. Understanding the difference between palliative care and hospice care can help select the most appropriate form of care based on the patient’s condition and desires.

Palliative care can be a stepping stone for those who are not yet eligible or ready for hospice care. Communicating openly with healthcare providers and family members is essential to choosing between palliative and hospice care, considering the patient’s wishes and quality of life at the forefront of all decisions.


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