Senior man sitting looking at photo album  with male nurse

Senior man sitting looking at photo album with male nurse

People often confuse palliative care and hospice care, believing both terms refer to the service available in the final months or weeks of life. Palliative care is the umbrella term for a comprehensive method of caring for those with life-limiting conditions, regardless of their diagnosis, prognosis, or age. Hospice is one of type of palliative care associated with care of patients and families at the end of life.  

Palliative care is available to anyone with a serious illness who requires pain relief, symptom management, or other support — even for those who may one day fully recover. 

According to expert organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical school, palliative care provides improved symptom management and better quality of life. It can also boost patients’ moods and provide relief for family members who are the first line of care to those suffering from a chronic disease. It has also been shown to help people live longer. Most importantly, palliative care is underused. Many people who could benefit from it don’t know about it. Hosparus Health wants to change that by raising awareness about the benefits of their care.

“Palliative care is an extra layer of support that’s meant to assist both patients and families facing any serious or life-limiting illness at any point along their disease trajectory,” says Dr. Dustin Dillon, senior physician for hospice and palliative care services at Hosparus Health. “This could mean you were just diagnosed with cancer. Palliative care can help. You may have heart failure and COPD and have noticed that you’ve needed to go to the hospital several times to get symptoms treated over the past year. Palliative care can help.”

Palliative care versus hospice care — the key difference

Hospice care, often called “comfort care,” is for people who are facing terminal illness and have a life expectancy of six months or less. “Our hospice services provide relief from pain and other symptoms of serious illness, allowing patients and their families to make the most of the time they have together,” says Dr. Dillon.

Hospice is provided wherever a patient calls home and offers much more than medical care, including counseling, spiritual support and help with end-of-life planning. The hospice benefit is completely covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans.

Palliative care offers specialized care for people much earlier in the trajectory of serious illness. Some of Hosparus Health’s patients have been in their palliative program for years.

Like hospice, palliative care helps to manage symptoms — not just pain but shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. It can help reduce stress, both for the patient and their family. Whether it be assisting a patient with limited mobility to walk to the bathroom or relieving the social isolation that can come with battling a disease, palliative care provides the support a patient needs for an improved daily life.

The main difference is that palliative care can be combined with curative treatments, such as chemotherapy. “With palliative care, we also help you understand what is happening to your body and what is going on with your disease,” Dr. Dillon says. “And most importantly, we get to know you as a person and as a family, so that we can help you in making decisions about the type of care that you want for your health. If you have any disease that you notice is starting to limit or affect your ability to function from a day-to-day standpoint, please call us, because we’re here to help.”

The power of palliative care

Palliative care works. “There are studies that show that people who receive palliative care have a higher quality of life than those people who don’t,” says Dr. Dillon. “That’s one of the messages that we’re trying to get out into the community, that this is a wonderful, comprehensive service that helps people feel better, and that people can utilize much earlier in their illness.”

One study of 350 hospital patients found that early palliative care improved mood and coping mechanisms in those battling newly diagnosed lung and gastrointestinal cancer. Another study reported that early palliative care helped patients feel “supported and guided in their illness experience,” and that those with symptoms “valued prompt attention to their physical concerns.” 

Hosparus Health are the experts in hospice and palliative care, serving families in Kentucky and Southern Indiana since 1978. Whether you have been recently diagnosed or you’re in your final chapter, Hosparus can help you and your family navigate the challenges and stress of serious illness.

Interested in learning more about the palliative care or hospice programs at Hosparus Health? To schedule a consultation and learn which program might be best for you or a loved one, call (800) 264-0521, fill out their online form, or visit their website at HosparusHealth.org.