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What's the difference between hospice and palliative care

Posted October 03, 2017 by Melissa Soltis, M.D.

Palliative care and hospice services are often used interchangeably among the public as well as within healthcare. Together, they do create a single sub-specialty similar to obstetrics and gynecology. Just as a woman seeking a gynecologist doesn’t have to be pregnant, those who seek palliative care services don’t necessarily have a terminal illness. It is important to identify the similarities and differences in the type of care that is provided, as well as the patient populations that are cared for so that the appropriate team can meet the patient’s needs.

Palliative care is specialized treatment tailored to those who are suffering due to their chronic or life limiting illnesses. An entire team of providers cares for the patient through distressing symptoms, difficult treatment plans, and the process of establishing goals for their care. Many people seek palliative care while they receive aggressive treatments for their illnesses such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgical interventions and curative therapies.

Palliative care is a consulting team that can help patients with pain, shortness of breath, nausea, depression, weight loss, and any other symptom that is making daily living a challenge. A plan is designed to determine what the most important parts of a patient’s quality of life are and what makes the most sense for each individual patient. Patients can continue to be seen by their primary care physician and all other specialists. They can be seen by palliative care services on a regular basis for continued follow up through home visits or palliative clinics. For some patients, palliative care services may help to introduce them to hospice services as they eventually decline from their illnesses.

Hospice is a philosophy of care for patients who have a life expectancy determined by their physician to be most likely measured in months (typically less than 6). Hospice is an insurance benefit that provides care directed at quality and comfort and not quantity of days. Life prolonging therapies are not typically continued including life support, hemodialysis, and intensive care-type therapies.

Under hospice care, patients have their symptoms aggressively managed with the support of interdisciplinary teams consisting of physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, nurses, aides, chaplains, psychologists and volunteers. Patients who enroll in hospice have typically determined that they choose quality of time and acknowledge that their life is limited. Through identification of patient’s goals for preparation of death, the hospice team works to provide dignity at the end of life. Care is provided for patients in whatever location they call home. Hospice teams visit patients in their own homes, in nursing homes, and even in acute hospice units when symptoms determine this is necessary.

Both hospice and palliative care services are designed to improve symptom burden and to help our patients to better cope with severe illness through team support. Hospice and palliative care consultations are available in all Summa Health inpatient hospitals. Palliative care services are accessible to area patients through Summa Health Palliative at 75 Arch St., or the Summa Health Jean and Milton Cooper Pavilion for those who are seeking cancer treatments. Hospice services are available through Summa Health at Home through any referring physician.

For more information visit Senior's Healthcare Services section or call 234.867.6314 with any questions. 

Melissa Soltis, M.D.
Medical Director
Summa Health at Home


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