We’ve told you about hospice and we’ve filled you in on palliative care but now we want to look at the specific differences in the two to help you better understand their roles in healthcare.

One of the main differences is that hospice is usually not offered until a terminal illness is diagnosed or it’s determined that the patient only has about 6 months or less to live. Two physicians have to agree that if the disease follows a normal course, the patient may not live for more than 6 months for hospice to be provided.

Because of the time limit of a hospice patient, the goal is mainly focused on comfort. Creating a comfortable atmosphere for the patient and their family during those last weeks or days is key in hospice because there’s most likely nothing prolonging anyone could do.

Palliative care, on the other hand, has no distinction. A patient can receive care at any time in the illness, terminal or not. This can include anything from anxiety and stress to symptom management, to therapy for the patient or his or her family members and loved ones. To receive such help, a patient simply needs to ask his or her physician.

With palliative care, both chronic and terminal illnesses are cared for and, although comfort is a factor, there is no limitation or exception that life-prolonging treatments can be used. Curing treatment can be administered during palliative care.

To sum those differences up, palliative care is a service that educated and administers coping techniques and treatments for any stage of serious illnesses that aren’t necessarily terminal while hospice comes in only towards the end of the terminal illness.

Both provide comfort and coping for family members as any disease (fatal or not) can take a toll on anyone connected with the patient. Both services are focused on symptom treatment and overall dealing with the illness in an appropriate way for its stage.

As a physician, it’s up to you to determine if either service is needed and it can be tough referring a patient to one of them. Know that either of them can lesson uncomfortable symptoms and create a better living experience for those with serious diseases.