Receiving a diagnosis for a serious, long-term, and/or life-threatening disease or illness comes with unique challenges as patients battle for their health and undergo treatments that can have adverse side effects. Conditions like cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and more can cause difficulties in patients’ daily lives.
Coping with debilitating chronic and terminal illnesses often results in an abundance of stress on patients as well as their caregivers. In most cases, patients with serious or life-threatening conditions can benefit from receiving palliative or hospice care. The type of care they pursue may vary depending on their prognosis, condition, and healthcare goals. Either way, palliative and hospice care can help patients cope with their symptoms, receive guidance, and have a say in their treatment plan.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a specialized form of care that takes a patient’s specific needs, preferences, and goals into account. This form of care takes a whole-person approach, aiming to help alleviate symptoms in addition to providing education, tools, and resources for patients and caregivers alike to utilize.
Provided by an interdisciplinary team of professionals and specialists (including nurses, chaplains, nutritions, and more), palliative care provides more than just medical support; palliative care teams work to offer patients practical, social, and emotional support, as well.
Anyone who has received a serious diagnosis can pursue palliative care, and this type of care is often most effective when it begins shortly after patients receive their diagnosis. With palliative care, patients may continue to receive curative treatments (such as chemotherapy for cancer patients). Patients whose conditions are not expected to become terminal within roughly six months or whose conditions may recover with treatment or specialized care can benefit immensely from palliative care as they can receive support for symptoms, side effects, and other difficulties that come with a serious illness.
What is Hospice Care?
Hospice care is a type of palliative care specifically for patients who have been given a limited prognosis—typically six months or fewer—and will no longer receive any curative treatments. In essence, hospice care applies many of the same ideals and practices as palliative care. However, the primary goal pertains to symptom alleviation and caregiver support as all involved parties will understand that the patient has a limited amount of time before they pass away.
Hospice care ultimately strives to make the end of patients’ lives as comfortable, easy, and fulfilling as possible. Patients receiving hospice care can choose not to make emergency room visits or receive aggressive treatments that may cause detrimental side effects without prolonging their prognosis or improving their quality of life.
Hospice gives patients the opportunity to claim autonomy at the end of their lives, granting them dignity, independence, and the chance to minimize their own suffering based on their specific preferences.
Differences Between Palliative and Hospice Care
While both palliative and hospice care aim to improve patients’ quality of life, they do differ in a few ways pertaining to the stage at which care is an option, the type of treatments permitted, and the role of the care teams.
Palliative care is available to patients at any stage of an illness, and it is often most effective when received shortly after the initial diagnosis. When receiving palliative care, patients can also undergo treatments that target the cause of their symptoms; while palliative care primarily focuses on symptom management and relief, curative treatments can still be administered simultaneously. The palliative care team is not the primary medical team for their patients, but they do communicate and collaborate with the primary medical team to ensure treatments and therapies align with patients’ goals.
Hospice care, on the other hand, is only offered to patients with a limited prognosis. Medical professionals will only prescribe or recommend hospice care to patients who are believed to have just a few months left to live, usually as the result of a terminal or incurable condition. Unlike other forms of palliative care, hospice care does not allow curative treatments at the same time; because of the understanding that patients receiving hospice care are focused on alleviating symptoms, not a cure for their condition, curative treatments are no longer necessary. In most cases, the hospice care team operates as the primary medical and support staff for patients, coordinating treatments, therapies, and other services as needed.
Benefits of Palliative and Hospice Care
With both kinds of care, one of the overarching goals is to provide relief from symptoms such as pain, nausea, fatigue, and insomnia. Because of this initiative, patients can expect to live more comfortably while receiving any type of palliative care. Another critical highlight of palliative care is that patients are given more of a say in their care; through palliative and hospice care, patients and their caregivers can feel comfortable knowing that their opinions, preferences, and goals are being taken into account.
Palliative care encourages more communication and collaboration between patients and their healthcare providers, as well as any other relevant professionals and consultants, resulting in more personalized, specific care that aims to meet patients’ long-term goals.
While dealing with serious illnesses and diseases is naturally difficult, palliative and hospice care can help patients achieve a higher quality of life through individualized healthcare programs, symptom management, and effective networks of skilled, dedicated professionals.
It is important to understand the role of palliative and hospice care in the treatment of serious conditions, and knowing the differences between them can help patients and their caregivers decide what suits their needs and goals best.