When a loved one falls seriously ill, making an informed decision about treatment options and ongoing care can be daunting, especially as you grapple with your own emotions. At Hospice of Southwest Ohio, we understand the stress and emotional toll that comes with this situation. We also recognize that the most important thing to families in this position is maximizing their loved one’s quality of life while preserving their dignity as much as possible.
If you find yourself in the position of caring for a loved one with a terminal illness or advanced chronic condition, you might hear doctors or medical professionals mention “palliative care” or “hospice”—but if you don’t have a medical background, it can be easy to misunderstand these two similar, yet distinct, systems of care. While the main focus of each is to enhance overall quality of life—for instance, easing the symptoms of illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, dementia, or kidney failure—hospice care is typically reserved for those with less than six months to live.
In honor of Hospice and Palliative Care Awareness Month, let’s take a closer look at these different types of care and some of the most common questions we receive.
We often say that all hospice care is palliative care, but palliative care isn’t necessarily hospice care—and that distinction largely has to do with the type of patient receiving care. Anyone with a serious illness can utilize palliative care, regardless of their prognosis or life expectancy, and it can start as soon as they receive their diagnosis. Many people will pursue palliative care early in their illness, rather than waiting to experience severe symptoms or discomfort. Furthermore, palliative care can be provided in essentially every type of setting—at home, in a hospital, in a long-term care facility or rehabilitation center, in a clinic or in an assisted living facility.
Perhaps most importantly, palliative care does not replace a patient’s primary (ideally curative) treatment. Rather, it should work hand-in-hand with the primary treatment being received to minimize the pain, symptoms, and stress of dealing with a serious illness (and potential treatment side effects). Patients can receive palliative care for an extended period of time, too—potentially, as long as the duration of the illness.
At Hospice of Southwest Ohio, palliative care entails:
- Identifying and addressing pain and discomfort. Our team provides patients with symptom control for problems with breathing, anxiety, depression, insomnia and more.
- Ensuring patients’ needs are fully met while helping with clear communication between the family and doctors.
- Focusing on the entire person and offering support to patients who need help with emotional, psychological, spiritual or social needs.
- Offering support to family members and caregivers who undergo stress from helping those with a serious illness.
While hospice care is “palliative” in the sense that it seeks to maximize comfort and ease pain or symptoms of serious illness, this type of care is usually reserved for those nearing the end of life. Many medical professionals note that it is appropriate to discuss hospice care when life expectancy begins to be measured by months, not years; the typical recipient of hospice care has a terminal illness that is not responding to treatment and often has less than six months left to live. Hospice care focuses on improving the quality of the patient’s life once curative treatment stops, so they can enjoy their remaining time with family and friends in as much comfort as possible. At HSWO, we say that our successes are in helping a patient and their family live fully until the end.
Hospice care can be provided in a number of settings—preferably one that best meets the needs of each patient and family. The most common setting is the patient’s home, but it can also be provided in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals according to patient care needs.
While the “typical” experience of hospice care will depend on the setting and diagnosis, patients can expect:
- Ongoing medical care with a focus on pain and symptom control.
- Access to a member of a hospice team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Medical supplies and equipment as needed.
- Counseling and social support.
- A break (respite care) for caregivers and family who provide ongoing care.
- Counseling and support for loved ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who provides palliative care and hospice care?
Most providers of hospice and/or palliative care will have a multidisciplinary team of professionals who work together to provide relief and support for those with serious illnesses. Hospice of Southwest Ohio boasts an experienced, compassionate team of physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers, chaplains, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals who are fully committed to providing the best quality care to patients.
For palliative care, we also partner with CareBridge Palliative Care Services, who will work in conjunction with the patient’s primary care physician and referring specialists to help relieve pain and suffering associated with any illness, at any time.
Are these types of care covered by insurance and/or Medicare?
Everything depends on the patient’s individual plan, but typically, both palliative and hospice care are covered at least in part by insurance and Medicare.
Palliative care is covered by most private insurance companies, and Medicare generally covers 80% of all palliative charges.
Medicare traditionally covers all hospice-related charges and most private insurance companies cover hospice care, as well.
How do I know if my loved one needs hospice care?
This is a difficult question to answer, and will largely depend on the diagnosis and severity of symptoms. We recommend considering these questions:
- Are they making frequent trips to the ER?
- Are they suffering from unrelieved pain?
- Are they experiencing frequent infections?
- Are they falling frequently or having trouble living on their own?
- Have medical treatments stopped having a curing effect on their disease?
- Have they been diagnosed by a physician with a terminal illness with less than six months to live?
If you’re answering yes to these questions, hospice care would likely be a good option for your loved one.
More answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.
At Hospice of Southwest Ohio, we are dedicated to providing quality comfort care and support in meeting the medical, emotional, spiritual and psychological needs of our patients, families, caregivers, staff and community in a way that affirms life and supports choices in an environment of dignity and respect. Whether the right fit for your loved one is palliative care or hospice care depends on several factors—but our team of skilled, compassionate professionals is more than happy to help you navigate that decision.