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Difference between Palliative Care and Hospice

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
January 11, 2013

Question: Is there a difference between palliative care and hospice?

Answer: Let's start with palliative care. This is the most misused term because it describes both pain management when you're healthy and the support you receive during the dying process. Palliative care is the global word to describe all of the care that is related to the relief of suffering. So sometimes patients may go to a palliative care specialist, even though they're not dying, to help them get their pain under control or to alleviate their physical symptoms.   These patients are not dying, they are just asking for good pain management.  

The other group of people who benefit from palliative care are those who are dying. Palliative care specialists provide comfort and support to those who are on the dying journey. The palliative care specialist will usually refer the patient to hospice so the patient can receive all the additional services and benefits that are available.

The term hospice applies to those who are in the dying process. A medical hospice provides visits from nurses, doctors, social workers, chaplains, nursing aides, and volunteers. Hospice also supplies appropriate medical equipment, symptom management medications, oxygen, etc. There is no cost for these services whether you have insurance or not.

Hospice care can be given wherever the person lives. This could include the home, an outpatient hospice, an inpatient designated bed in the hospital, a skilled nursing facility, a board and care, or assisted living facility.  

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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