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What is the Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care?

Last Updated: February 5, 2015

Hospice care helps the terminally ill and their families make the most of the last days, weeks, or months of their lives. Rooted in the word "hospitality," hospice is not a place, but a philosophy of care that embraces death as a natural part of life, and seeks to help patients meet this end with grace and dignity. This means comforting the patient physically and emotionally while supporting their loved ones as they navigate end of life decisions. Below are answers to common questions about hospice care:

What is the Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care?

Palliative medicine helps patients who are suffering from serious chronic illnesses alleviate their symptoms, maximize their independence and coordinate their care. Hospice is designed to bring security, dignity, physical comfort, pain relief and emotional support for people who are approaching end of life. 

Who is Eligible for Hospice Services?

Hospice care is generally intended for those who are terminally ill and likely to die within six months. A doctor's referral is generally all that's needed for a patient to become eligible for hospice services. In the U.S., 40% of patients receive hospice care at home.

What Does Hospice Care Entail?

The primary focus of hospice care is maintaining the patient's quality of life. This may involve the following services:

  • Coordination of Services: Once a patient is enrolled in hospice, the service provider will organize and manage all aspects of care.
  • Pain and Symptom Management: In hospice, all medical care is focused on helping patients get maximum enjoyment from their lives. Keeping pain and symptoms under control, while minimizing side effects is key.
  • Support for Daily Activities: Help with things like bathing, dressing, and eating are all included in hospice care.
  • Medical Supply Management: All necessary supplies and equipment will be provided as needed. 
  • Counseling: Counselors can help patients and their families process their grief and achieve some measure of closure.
  • Respite Care:  Often loved ones need a break from caregiving. In this case skilled care providers will step in to look after the patient.
  • Volunteer Support:  Most hospice services can organize volunteers to help with errands and meal-delivery.

Who Administers Hospice Care?

In addition to the patient's loved ones, doctors, nurses, home health aides, counselors, and others are involved in care as needed.

Where is Hospice Care Administered?

While patients can receive hospice care in hospitals, long term care communities, and specialized hospice centers, most people elect to receive hospice care at home.

What Documentation is Required for Hospice Enrollment?

Broadly speaking, the paperwork required for hospice enrollment includes the following:

  • Legal Documentation:  This includes documentation of any powers of attorney, legal guardianships, advanced care directives, or do-not-resuscitate orders.
  • Health Insurance Information:  This might include private health insurance, the Medicare Hospice Benefit Election form, and/or the Medicare Secondary Payer form.
  • Patient Consent for Care:  Either the patient or his or her legal guardian will need to sign this form, which states that the patient or guardian understands the purpose and scope of hospice care.

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