These two types of care are similar enough as to be confused with each other at times. Both use a team approach to provide care that focuses on patient comfort, pain and symptom management, emotional support for patient and family, the right to die pain free with respect and dignity, and personal control over one’s care.
The main difference is in hospice care provider how aggressively patients are treated for disease. Palliative care usually follows curative treatments like chemo, physical therapy, radiation or surgery, and the goal is to provide patients with the highest quality of life while the patient is still trying to eliminate or manage the disease. Palliative care can make use of involved treatments to manage patient comfort and improve quality of life. And, palliative care is not time limited – patients can receive care for as long as it is needed.
Hospice focuses on caring when a cure is no longer actively being sought by patients with fewer than 6 months to live. To qualify for hospice, two doctors certify the patient is terminally ill with less than 6 months to live if the disease were to naturally run its course. Patient comfort, not a cure, is the foremost goal. Hospice can also refer to a place, unlike palliative care.
To understand the difference, it may be helpful to view the types of care on a time line. Curative treatments are followed by palliative care – used by patients who wish to continue to pursue a cure – and then hospice is utilized when a cure is no longer a viable option. Hospice care is generally suggested by a physician after all options for treatment have been tried and found to not be useful.