The big difference between palliative care and hospice care

Sep 30, 2020
There's a major difference between palliative care and hospice care that many might not be aware of. Source: Getty.

For many people, palliative care sounds frightening. It’s often thought of as a synonym for end-of-life care. But if your GP offers a referral for palliative care, that doesn’t mean your doctor has given up on you, and it doesn’t mean you have to stop receiving treatment.

In fact, palliative care isn’t about dying; it’s about living. The goal of palliative care is to alleviate your symptoms and improve the quality of your life while you experience a chronic, life-threatening illness. Unlike curative treatments, which focus on curing the illness, palliative care focuses on helping you live a full life during your illness.

Palliative care includes managing symptoms, especially pain, but it also includes holistic support for you and your whole family. Psychological support, grief counselling and cultural support are all included in palliative care.

Palliative care is also an important component of end-of-life care, since it helps you be more comfortable as you near the end of life. Emotional support for you and your loved ones, along with symptom management, are important components of end-of-life care.

The difference between palliative care and hospice care

Hospice care, on the other hand, is more specific; it is a synonym for end-of-life care. In order to receive hospice care, you’ll have to stop curative treatments.

Unlike palliative care, hospice care is short term; it begins only after a medical assessment indicates you have six months or fewer left to live. Palliative care, however, can and should begin at any stage of a life-limiting illness.

How to create an end of life care plan

If you are receiving palliative care for a terminal illness, then it’s important to create an end of life care plan that describes the kind of care you want. To create your plan, consider these questions:

  • Where do you want to be for this stage of life? You can receive palliative care at home, in hospital, in a hospice, or in an aged care facility. The best location for you will depend on your needs, what type of care you want, what equipment and support is needed, and your goals.
  • Who do you want to provide care? Do you want your GP to provide most of your care? Do you have specialist health professionals such as an oncologist or physiotherapist? Do you want to receive care from a palliative care team that includes a social worker, a psychologist, or other specialists?
  • Who do you want to make decisions if you’re not able to? You can designate a loved one to make decisions about your care on your behalf if that becomes necessary.

Benefits of palliative care

Palliative care can significantly improve your quality of life. Even if you’re receiving it as part of end-of-life care, palliative care helps you focus on the life you’re experiencing now. The goal of palliative care is to make your life now as full and comfortable as possible.

One of the key goals of palliative care is to reduce the physical symptoms of your disease. This treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms such as pain, nausea and fatigue. Reducing your symptoms can reduce the suffering caused by disease, making you more comfortable and enabling you to enjoy activities and time with your loved ones.

Palliative care also provides spiritual and social support. This could mean providing you with counselling and care from a clergy member of your religion. It could also mean grief counselling and therapy for your and your loved ones, or care from a social worker who provides you with resources and counselling. In addition to religious support, you can receive care such as narrative therapy, counselling and education.

Finally, palliative care offers holistic support for your family and loved ones. It includes both physical and psychological support. Care for your family could include grief counselling and connection with community resources.

How do I get palliative care?

You qualify for palliative care if you have a serious, incurable illness. It does not have to be a life-threatening illness, but it does have to be an illness that significantly limits your quality of life for you to be eligible for palliative care.

To receive care, you simply need a referral from a healthcare provider. Usually this is your GP, but it can be a specialist for your illness or any healthcare professional who knows about your condition and can recommend care. If you think you may be eligible, you can ask your doctor to refer you.

Most palliative care is covered by Medicare at no cost to you. However, you might have to pay fees for some services. If you choose to receive care at home, then you might need to pay for specialised equipment or nursing staff. Some complementary palliative treatments or therapies may only be available by paying for them privately. If you choose to go to a private hospital or to use a respite service, these may also come with associated fees.

This article originally appeared on The CareSide.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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Did you know the difference between the two different kinds of care?

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