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There’s a new word in healthcare these days and it’s one that many of us do not understand. The word is “palliative” and it refers to a type of medical care. This term, “palliative” suffers as many of the words used in the medical field do, and I want to blame that on the Romans. While the language of Latin is considered a “dead” language, it certainly continues to influence how we communicate throughout the world, and no more so than in the field of medicine.

While many of us believe we understand what hospice care is, most of us do not have a clue about palliative care and for that matter, how hospice and palliative care are similar and how they differ. So let me attempt to clarify what these types of medical care are and are not.

In a nutshell, hospice is medical care for the dying person. One must be dying in order to be eligible, and the doctors (two) who order the hospice must believe that the person will likely die from a terminal condition within six months if left untreated. As the current hospice model is practiced today, the dying person must choose comfort care over curative treatment.

While a medical diagnosis is a requirement in order to be eligible for palliative care, a terminal medical diagnosis is not. The purpose of this care is to improve the quality of life while the person is living with the condition. Therefore, many patients who are receiving palliative care are treating their condition with the expectation of managing the symptoms, preventing progression of the condition or curing the condition altogether. Examples of eligible medical diagnosis is; cancer, Alzheimer’s and kidney disease.

With this clear understanding of the differences of hospice and palliative care, let’s now take a look at the similarities.

Whenever a patient is placed on palliative or hospice care, they are assigned to a team of professionals. This team is the same for both of these medical models and are comprised of a physician, nurse, home health aid, clergy, social worker and volunteer (if chosen). Both of these types of care are designed to provide supportive services to the patient and loved ones in order to lesson the burden often associated with receiving care for the health condition.

Both hospice and palliative care are usually a covered benefit under Medicare and most healthcare insurances, which is why I often recommend that anyone with a chronic medical condition or a terminal condition take advantage of these services. Of course, the best source for information about both of these services (and to inquire about eligibility) is always your medical practitioner.


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