You might see 'palliative care' and 'hospice' used together or interchangeably, and may even think they're the same thing, but they are not, and the differences are substantial. Knowing those differences may matter to you and your loved one.
Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans have coverage for palliative care. Both Medicare and Medicare Advantage cover the inpatient care, outpatient care, medication management, and mental health counseling that form palliative care services.
So... Palliative care - What is it?
- Foremost, palliative care is NOT hospice. Though like hospice, it does NOT mean giving up.
- There is no set life expectancy and palliative care can occur for years (unlike hospice that requires a diagnosis of 6 months or less).
- The priority is enhanced quality of life. The focus of palliative care is three-fold:
- managing symptoms to prevent hospitalizations
- managing symptoms to promote your loved one's enjoyment of life
- understanding medical choices and ensuring ongoing and future medical care is planned according to your loved one's desires
- Palliative care can be implemented at any stage of a serious, life-limiting illness (such as heart failure, COPD, cancer), including soon after diagnosis. It is often implemented at moderate to advanced stages, however.
- It does not require that curative treatment stops. Your loved one may continue to receive treatment intended to cure the serious illness.
- It is not any one service (like hospice is). Palliative care comprises a collection of services the come together with the aim of improving quality of life.
- Care is provided by a team of professionals who are all experts or certified in palliative care. Care is typically overseen by a nurse practitioner, though also includes a physician and social worker. Your loved one's primary provider may be involved, and family caregivers are also included on the palliative care team!
- Services are provided wherever the person resides: home, assisted living, even some hospitals have inpatient palliative care units (in the case of hospital admission).
- Over time, if the palliative care team believes any ongoing curative treatment is no longer beneficial, stopping curative treatment will be discussed.
- As the serious illness approaches end-stage, palliative care could be transitioned to hospice care upon diagnosis of 6 months or less of life remaining. Hospice care is a choice made by your loved one and not automatic.
See also: Caregiver's Challenge: Hospice