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Palliative Versus Hospice Care: Do You Know the Difference?

Misconceptions about palliative and hospice care are widespread among the public and healthcare professionals alike. In this month’s Tip to Treasure, these terms will be explored and clarified to prevent confusion.

Hospice care is end-of-life care provided by health professionals and volunteers. They give medical, psychological and spiritual support, with the goal of helping people who are dying attain peace, comfort and dignity (NIH, 2010). The caregivers try to control pain and other symptoms so a person can remain as alert and comfortable as possible. The goal of hospice care is to keep pain and suffering of a person with a terminal diagnosis to a minimum, and not to cure the illness. Hospice programs also provide services to support a patient's family. Usually, a hospice patient is expected to live six months or less. Hospice care can take place in any setting: in the home, an acute care facility or a hospice center.

On the other hand, palliative care seeks to prevent and relieve suffering to ensure the highest possible quality of life regardless of the age of the individual, stage of disease, or need for other therapies. Palliative care incorporates symptom control, including pain management, supportive care, respite care, rehabilitation and terminal care. Palliative care focuses on providing support for the best possible quality of life for patients who have life-limiting illness, as well as for their families. 

Although palliative care focuses upon symptom management and comfort, curative therapies may be continued while a patient receives palliative care. With hospice care, curative therapies are not usually a priority of care. In both types of care, treatments may be continued or provided to relieve symptoms or to address problems unrelated to the life-limiting illness, such as an injury resulting from a fall.

Since the major focus in acute care settings is curative, palliative and hospice care often do not receive the funding and attention they deserve. Many features of the acute care environment limit patient and family control which is a vital component of palliative and hospice care. These features are often accentuated in the critical care environment.

If you are interested in palliative or hospice nursing, learn more about these disciplines at Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) at: http://www.hpna.org/