The Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice

“Dignity is very important, especially when you get to a certain age. Every single day I give thanks for my MJHS doctors, nurses and social worker, as well as for the chaplain who ministered to my husband and me, and the music therapist who played my husband’s favorite songs from the 1940s. When I close my eyes, I can see my husband moving his feet and wiggling his fingers to the music that soothed his body and soul and still eases my mind.”

—Carmen Abruzzo, Brooklyn, NY

When caring for a loved one who is facing a significant or life-altering illness, the topic of hospice or palliative care has most likely risen. The spread of COVID-19 has also caused many to think more deeply about their own medical wishes, making family conversations about pain management and end-of-life care more commonplace. As family members, we want the best for our loved ones and choosing the right care for them can make a huge difference. This is why knowing the difference between palliative and hospice care and understanding which meets your loved one’s preferences is useful.

The objective of both palliative and hospice care is to improve the quality of life for a patient by offering comfort, dignity, respect and providing much-needed support to loved ones. While there are many misconceptions, neither palliative or hospice care necessarily prolong life, nor do they hasten death. So, what is the difference between the two?

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life and supporting the patient and their family suffering from a life-threatening or chronic illness. The intent of palliative care is to help ease symptoms, pain, and side effects for patients while undergoing treatments for their illness. Palliative care is offered earlier in the disease process and can occur while the patient is still receiving curative treatment. It can be provided at home, in hospital, or in another setting such as a nursing home.

Palliative care acts as an added support to your existing team of physicians and is given in concurrence with treatments meant to treat a disease. Palliative care is a specialized medical practice that focuses on managing difficult symptoms and includes complex pain management that involves administering or managing pain medications for patients with serious illness. The palliative care team works in concert with your loved one’s own doctors and does not replace any of that care. Consultations can happen through telehealth, too.

Palliative care is best for individuals whose:

  • Quality of life is suffering due to an illness
  • Condition continues to worsen despite the best care of medical professionals
  • Need for regular help is growing due to a worsening illness
  • Trips to the doctor or hospital to address serious illness and symptoms have become more frequent

Learn more about the MJHS Palliative Care Services.

What is Hospice Care?

Considered the model for quality compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness, hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to a patient’s needs and wishes. Support is provided to your family as well.

Hospice focuses on caring, not curing. In most cases, care is provided in the patient’s home but may also be provided in freestanding hospice facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. A patient may require differing intensities of care during the course of their disease. While they may enter the program at any level of care, changes in their status may require a change in their level of care. The Medicare Hospice Benefit affords patients four levels of care to meet their clinical needs: routine home care, general inpatient care, continuous home care, and inpatient respite care.

Individuals that meet the following criteria may be eligible for hospice care:

  • Not expected to recover from their condition
  • Have decided to stop active treatment aimed at recovery
  • Have a life expectancy of fewer than six months

Hospice services are available to anyone with any terminal illness or of any age, religion, or race. Many find that the emotional support, symptom and pain management expertise hospice offers can make huge differences in the quality of life. 

Learn more about the MJHS Hospice program.

Who Provides Palliative and Hospice Care?

Palliative and hospice care both utilize a holistic team approach that consists of specialized medical care focused on relief from symptoms and stress of a critical illness. The core care team involves the patient’s diagnosing physician, specially trained hospice and palliative physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, nurses’ aides, social workers, and clergy, as well as family members. Other valuable members of the core care team include our dedicated volunteers and art and music therapists

Where is Palliative and Hospice Care Provided?

MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care is able to provide care at home or wherever your loved one lives—including nursing homes—and is proud to care for patients of every race, ethnicity, faith, national origin, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or military status.

Visit this page to receive more information on the compassionate care MJHS can provide.