How is Palliative Care Different From Hospice?






Palliative care can be something that happens the same time as patients are pursuing curative treatment. Hospice is specifically for patients who are focusing at the end of life, specifically the last 6 months of their life.

-Josh Fronk, DO

Palliative care is not the same as hospice

Many patients, families, and even healthcare workers confuse palliative care with hospice. Palliative care, unlike hospice, can be given at any age and at any stage of a serious illness.

You can get palliative care at the same time you are getting treatment for a cure.  Often, you may be seeing a lot of doctors for your care.  The palliative care team will work to bring all these doctors together to coordinate your care.

Hospice aims to provide you with comfort and quality of life.  It is also a health insurance benefit that covers a bundle of services for people that have 6 months or left to live if the disease follows its natural course.

While all hospice is palliative care, not all palliative care is hospice.  Read more below about the differences between these two types of care.

How palliative care and hospice are different

What is hospice?

The term hospice can be confusing

Hospice is a word that is confusing to many.  It is confusing because the word "hospice" can be used to refer to three different parts of hospice care.  They are:

  • A philosophy of care
  • A health insurance benefit
  • A set of services

Hospice as a philosophy

Hospice's philosophy of care is to provide people and families living with serious illness with care that comforts.  The goal is to relieve suffering, and provide the best quality of life for people during their last months of life.  Hospice is delivered where people want to be, and most of the time, this is at home. 

Hospice as a health insurance benefit

All health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover a certain set of services that hospice provides.  Some examples are listed to the right.  You, your family, and care team will decide what services would be most helpful for you.



Hospice as a set of services

The services provided by hospice depend on the person and their family's needs.  Examples of services provided are: 

Doctor services

Nursing care

Medical equipment and supplies

Medications to control pain and other symptoms

Home health services

Social worker services

Spiritual and emotional care

Short-term respite care for family members

Some hospices provide additional services as well. 


Differences between palliative care and hospice

Palliative care

What is the focus?

Palliative care focuses on the pain, symptoms, and stress of serious illness at any time during someone's serious illness, not just the last 6 months of life.

Who can receive this type of care?

Anyone with a serious illness.  It does not matter how long you are expected to live.  The person living with a serious illness can decide with their doctor when palliative care would be right for them.

Can someone who gets palliative care also get treatments to cure at the same time?

Yes.  People can receive palliative care services to better manage pain, symptoms, emotional or psychological distress, and more.  They can get these services while also undergoing active treatment to cure, such as chemotherapy.

Who provides these services?

A team of doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, and spiritual care providers.  This team works together with your other doctors to coordinate all the care you are receiving.  You get quality care this way. 

How long can someone get palliative care?

It depends on a person's care needs, and the health insurance coverage they have.  Most people get palliative care on an on and off basis, whenever the extra help is needed.  Many see the palliative care team more as their disease worsens. 


What is the focus?

Hospice care focuses on the pain, symptoms, and stress of serious illness during the last 6 months of someone's life.

Who can receive this type of care?

To receive hospice services, two doctors must agree that the person has 6 months or less to live if the disease runs its natural course.  Of course, the person living with the illness would also need to decide they would like to receive hospice services.

Can someone who gets hospice also get treatments to cure at the same time?

People on hospice do not receive treatments that aim to cure.  They still receive medical care, and the focus of this care is providing the best quality of life for the person with the time they have left.  Hospice should be considered when the burden of receiving treatments to cure outweigh the benefits.

Who provides these services?

A team of a doctor, nurses (usually), social workers, and spiritual care providers.  There may also be volunteers and aides that help you and your loved ones.  The hospice team works together with your primary doctor.

How long can someone be on hospice?

As long as a person meets their health insurance requirements to get hospice care. This is measured in months, not years.