Hospice vs Palliative Care: How Do They Differ?
Date: January 26, 2023
Categories: Health Focused
Christopher Heck, MD, FAAFP
Augusta Health Hospice of the Shenandoah Medical Director
Of the many services Augusta Health offers to the community, two of the most valued are palliative care and hospice care. Having said this, there is typically some confusion regarding how each of these is defined and this can lead to delays in patients receiving the right care in the right location. Both palliative and hospice focus on the care, comfort, and quality of life of a seriously ill person, but hospice is administered typically only when a patient has a prognosis of six months or less. Most patients in hospice care must also forgo curative treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer.
To expand on this, palliative care can be thought of as specialized medical care for people with chronic illnesses, but those who are not expected to die within the next 6 months or so. This type of care is focused on providing patients with relief from their symptoms, such as pain or simply the stress of the serious illness. The nature of the actual diagnosis or diagnoses is not of prime importance.
The goal is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and their family. It is a team approach that involves providers (doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants), nurses, and other specialists who collaborate with the patient’s medical team to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care can be provided to patients of any age and at any stage of a serious illness and can be provided together with curative treatment. In addition, the palliative team can visit the patient wherever they happen to be, such as at home, in the hospital, or in a nursing facility.
Hospice care is like palliative in that the overall goal is to provide symptom management, specifically relieving suffering of any sort. However, it is directed primarily at people whose burden of disease is likely to take their life within the next several months (which Medicare defines as 6 months). It is also a team approach that involves medical supervision with doctors and advanced practice providers, but also with the close involvement of nurses, nurses’ aides, chaplains, social workers, and volunteers. Hospice care can be delivered in any number of settings including the home, hospital, nursing facility (both assisted living and long-term care), or at a dedicated hospice facility such as the Shenandoah House at Augusta Health.
Often, patients begin with support from palliative care, a decision typically made by the patient and their family in consultation with their primary care provider. Later, at the appropriate time, palliative care will recommend hospice care after further review with the patient and their family. It is important to note that there are multiple people involved with the process who are available to advise the patient and their family regarding which approach would be best for them, always placing the patient’s wishes first.
Let me conclude by saying Augusta Health remains dedicated to providing the best and most caring support for people in our community suffering from any sort of disease process throughout the course of their illness, whether resulting in a cure or not. Whatever the outcome, our emphasis is and will always remain to provide comfort to the patient and their family in the most compassionate way possible.
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