Comforting the seriously ill is one of the most complex aspects of healthcare. New advances, although welcome, improve quality of life, but decisions about what is the best option can be confusing for both patients and caregivers. 

One important advance is the growing availability of palliative care. Specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses is provided by a team and involves a range of services delivered by different professionals that all have equally important roles to play – including physicians, nursing, support workers, paramedics, pharmacists, physiotherapists and volunteers –– in support of the patient and their family. 

Palliative care improves the quality of life of patients and that of their families who are facing challenges associated with life-threatening illness, whether physical, psychological, social or spiritual. The quality of life of caregivers improves as well. 

Hospice provides comfort, care and family support for someone with a terminal illness who usually has six months or less to live.  

If you live longer than that, you can continue to receive supportive care. The key difference from palliative care is that you don’t receive curative treatment anymore.  

Hospice care is also provided by a team that may include the hospice medical director, a nurse case manager, a social worker, a bereavement counselor, a home health aide, and hospice volunteers.

Where the treatment is provided? 

In most cases, people receive palliative care at a hospital, but you can also receive it at an outpatient center, a nursing home, an assisted-living facility, or at home. 

Hospice care usually takes place at home or in a nursing home, but there are some residential hospices as well as hospital beds designated for people in hospice. 

The difference between them is that palliative care (comfort care) may begin as soon as the person is diagnosed with terminal illness. Hospice care is an umbrella of care that includes palliative care after treatment has ceased. Hospice care usually includes psychological and emotional care for the immediate family as well. 

Does insurance cover palliative care or hospice care? 

Palliative care is generally covered by private insurance; Medicare Part B and some state Medicaid programs may also offer coverage for some forms of treatment. 

Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance. 

How long does this care last? 

You can receive palliative care as long it’s helpful, at any stage of your illness, including after you are no longer receiving treatment for your condition. You may still need help dealing with depression, medical bills, or other side effects from your treatment. If your condition progresses, you may opt to transition over to hospice care, which is, after all, a form of palliative care. 

Each year, an estimated 56.8 million people, including 25.7 million in the last year of life, are in need of palliative care. Worldwide, only about 14% of people who need palliative care currently receive it. In comparison every year, 1.6 million people enter hospice care. 

The global need for palliative care will continue to grow as a result of the ageing of populations and the rising burden of noncommunicable diseases and some communicable diseases. 

For more information: How hospice works | Medicare