Palliative Care Vs Hospice: What’s The Difference?


Palliative care and hospice care relieve pain, anxiety and other symptoms of serious illness and provide emotional support for patients and their families. Both aim at achieving the best possible quality of life. The main differences between palliative and hospice care are related to the type or stage of illness the patient is experiencing.

Palliative care is mainly for individuals who have a chronic (long-term) illness, such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, dementia or Parkinson’s disease. It does not depend on a patient’s life expectancy. Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. Patients can receive palliative care at home, but it is more commonly provided in a hospital or other care facility.

While palliative care can begin at any stage of illness, it is most effective when started at the time of diagnosis. Because it can be provided along with active treatment—including chemotherapy and radiation—patients should ask about palliative care soon after they receive a diagnosis of cancer. With the symptom relief palliative care provides, patients remain as active and alert as possible during treatment and can continue to enjoy favorite activities and the company of family and friends. In fact, palliative care has been shown to improve outcomes for patients with cancer.

“In addition to improving quality of life and helping with symptoms, palliative care can help patients and their families understand their medical treatment options,” says Christie Herrick, who manages hospice and palliative care services at Henry Ford Allegiance Health. “An older person who is experiencing general discomfort and disability late in life may also find palliative care helpful.”

How Is Hospice Care Different?

Hospice care offers physical comfort, compassion and dignity for individuals who have a life-limiting illness with a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice care becomes available immediately after the patient’s treatment has stopped due to treatment no longer offering a cure or delay in the disease process. Hospice care can also begin when a patient makes the choice to not undergo further treatment.

“While people may delay or refuse hospice care because they think it will shorten life or indicate that they have ‘given up’ on their loved one, neither is true,” says Herrick.

Hospice care does not in any way cause a person to die sooner. In fact, if the patient receiving hospice care shows signs of improvement and chooses to go back to receiving curative treatment, hospice care will be suspended. The earlier hospice care begins, the more beneficial it is to patients and their families.

Hospice services can be provided where the patient lives or in a hospital, long-term care facility or a hospice residence. For those who are caring for loved ones at home, hospice provides invaluable help. By taking over some of the responsibilities of care, compassionate hospice staff allow patients and families to spend meaningful, less stressful time together at the end of life.

For more information, visit or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). If you’re in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, visit or call 1-888-862-DOCS.

Christie Herrick is a manager for Hospice and Palliative Care at Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, Mich.

Categories: FeelWell