Living Well

Hospice and Palliative Medicine: What is the difference?

Katie Briggs, MD
Hospice and Palliative Medicine: What is the difference?

Hospice and Palliative Medicine often get confused for each other and many patients have questions about the differences between the two. Patients may be referred to Palliative Medicine by their primary care doctor or specialist and wonder what role this specialty will play in their care and who is eligible for this type of treatment. Palliative Medicine is a specialty of medicine that treats patients with serious illness, regardless of treatment they are receiving. Palliative Medicine clinicians commonly see patients with advanced cancer, heart or lung disease such as a COPD or heart failure, end stage renal disease and other serious illnesses. The focus of care is on quality of life and can begin at the time of diagnosis. It augments any and all treatment, including curative options, offered by other specialists.

A Palliative Medicine specialist will:

  • Take a team approach to your care and often includes nurses, doctors, social workers and pastoral care
  • Focus on symptom management including pain, anxiety, fatigue, shortness of breath, depression and insomnia
  • Assess spiritual and psychological needs of the patient and family
  • Explain and help complete advanced care planning documents such as a living will
  • Approach patient and illness with a“big picture” view to help explain treatment options as decisions are made

Hospice is a continuum of the philosophy of Palliative Care and is reserved for patients who are in their last stage of life. Often patients become hospice eligible when life prolonging treatments are no longer an option or the focus shifts to comfort centered treatment. This may occur when treatments are no longer beneficial to the patient or when the burdens of treatment outweigh benefits that would be achieved. Hospice is meant to focus on comfort, dignity, quality of life and to bring care to the patient and family in their home. A huge benefit of hospice is 24/7 availability of the care team including nurses, aides and doctors to ensure patient centered support and comfort. Hospice also provides an added benefit of family support through bereavement counseling after a loved one has passed.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. At University Medical Center New Orleans, Palliative specialists see patients in the hospital and in the ambulatory clinic. If you have questions about Hospice and Palliative Medicine, ask your primary care provider or specialist. For more information about our Palliative Medicine & Supportive Care Services here at University Medical Center New Orleans please click here

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