The differences between hospice and palliative care

June 21, 2021
Aspire Blog - differences between hospice and palliative care

People sometimes confuse palliative care with hospice care.  While a palliative care consultation might occasionally result in people choosing hospice, the services and limitations of hospice are significantly different than palliative care. To understand the differences between hospice and palliative care, let’s first define each:

  • Palliative care is comprehensive medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family, while optimally treating the related disease.
  • Hospice is a special medical benefit available to those with a terminal condition who wish to forego further diagnostic and curative treatment, and instead focus on comfort. It is a 24/7 service where medical personnel visit you as needed at home and provide the equipment and medications to enable your family or caregiver to keep you comfortable.

While the two have overlapping objectives – pain and symptom relief – the goals and prognosis of both are different. Palliative care is based on the needs of the patient, not on the patient’s prognosis. It can be appropriate at any age and any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided while someone is still getting curative-focused treatment — in no way does palliative care suggest a lesser effort to successfully treat disease. Hospice is comfort care without curative intent. Patients in hospice choose not to receive any further diagnostic procedures or treatments focused on curing their disease or condition.

If you have Original Medicare (Parts A and B) or a Medicare Advantage plan, you are covered for hospice services. If you have Original Medicare, you may be covered for palliative care if your doctor says that it is medically necessary. The cost associated with palliative care is fully covered for Aspire Health Plan members, just as with any other specialist medical services. You will not be paying more for this service, you will not have to give up your doctor, and you do not have to stop any treatments.  You can have palliative care at the same time as treatment meant to cure you.

Palliative care teams focus on comprehensive symptom management — improving the quality of life. They treat people suffering from the symptoms and stress of serious illnesses such as cancer, congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or ALS.  Recent clinical studies, including several published in the New England Journal of Medicine, have shown that patients with a serious illness who receive palliative care live longer than those that did not receive this care.

The palliative care team is with you every step of the way. Here in Monterey County, both inpatient and outpatient palliative care services are available at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System. If you are interested in palliative care, ask your doctor for a referral, or simply call Aspire Health Plan’s Member Services team at (855) 570-1600.


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