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Palliative care is often confused for hospice care. The nature of these practices differs in terms of objective, duration, and treatment options. While there are some similarities between the two—and in fact, hospice is a kind of palliative care—it is important to differentiate them from a patient perspective to understand the purpose and implications of palliative care.


What Is Palliative Care?

Compared to other approaches to treatment, palliative care is relatively new. By definition, palliative care entails treating patients for serious medical conditions while also prioritizing quality of life. The term “palliative” means “remedy without curing.” In many ways, palliative care takes a holistic approach to treatment, as it provides emotional, spiritual, and social support in addition to medical and physical treatment.

Palliative care typically allows patients to receive concurrent treatments for their medical conditions while also providing symptom education and management. Many individuals who receive palliative care have a prognosis that exceeds six months, granting them access to the kind of comfort-oriented care that is usually associated with hospice.


Who Receives Palliative Care?

Many patients who receive palliative care have been diagnosed with a life-threatening or terminal illness, but they are not the only ones who can benefit from such care. Any individual, regardless of age or stage of illness, can receive palliative care. The type of illness or medical condition does not influence patient eligibility; palliative care can be granted to individuals with chronic, curable, and life-threatening conditions. At any point from diagnosis onward, patients may receive palliative care, namely if they desire relief from symptoms or pain or require communication assistance regarding health and treatment.


What Are the Benefits?

In addition to providing relief from uncomfortable, painful, and debilitating symptoms, palliative care can also, by proxy, extend a patient’s life expectancy, especially when paired with more targeted treatments geared toward remedying underlying condition(s). One primary goal of palliative care is to grant patients autonomy, control, and comfort, which allows patients to feel more informed and capable of recovery.

Family members and loved ones also benefit from palliative care as it provides caregiving support in the form of medical aid for patients, education about patients’ conditions, and emotional resources such as counseling. Palliative care allows for continued treatment of medical conditions while also providing patients with support in various aspects of life, from pain management to spiritual comfort, thereby granting patients and their loved ones peace of mind.


A shift from palliative to hospice care may occur if a patient wishes to cease treatment for their conditions and their prognosis is believed to be fewer than six months; hospice care is then used to give patients comfort and dignity as they approach the ends of their lives.

Palliative care is patient-focused and comfort-oriented, and its core principles have influenced patient care throughout the medical field, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing patient needs, desires, and goals through palliative tactics can empower patients, grant them autonomy and comfort, and provide better overall care regardless of their conditions.