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What is the difference between palliative care and hospice?

Question: What is the difference between palliative care and hospice?

Answer: While there may be some similarities between palliative care and hospice, the differences are quite vast. One distinguishing factor is that palliative care, a newly defined branch of medicine, focuses on symptom management and can be introduced at any point during the course of an illness. In contrast, hospice is a system of care that includes family support and bereavement services and is tailored to individuals whose life expectancy is generally six months or less.

Sometimes referred to as supportive care, palliative care centers on managing symptoms and improving a patient’s quality of life throughout the care continuum. It is in no way limited to those who are at the end of life, have a terminal disease or whose outcome is expected to be terminal.

Symptom management is a hallmark of palliative medicine that covers a wide range of illness and treatment aftereffects, including, but not limited to: pain, fatigue, nausea, depression, anxiety, insomnia, weakness, weight loss, decreased appetite and difficulty with activities of daily living. Since one’s quality of life is so closely related to physical function, rehabilitation should also be a central element of palliative care. 

Physicians specializing in palliative medicine provide both physical and psychosocial support as patients move through the treatment process. This can also include counseling about health care matters related to advance directives; open dialogue about the potential impact of a treatment or intervention; and discussion about psychosocial history to better understand a patient’s individual views, coping mechanisms and sources of support.

At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, palliative care ensures patients receive much needed support in controlling their symptoms while enabling oncologists to focus on the treatment process.

The characteristics of palliative care may vary from one clinical specialty to another. In keeping with the MD Anderson philosophy, palliative care at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center focuses greatly on function, rehabilitation and expert symptom control. 

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