Hospice and palliative care: What’s the difference?

Palliative care and hospice are sometimes used interchangeably in health care, but are two distinct areas of nursing, each with its own philosophies and approaches to care.

This story was published in the Spring-Summer 2022 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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Palliative care

Palliative care encompasses medical, nursing and ancillary care for people living with a serious or life-limiting condition. Palliative care can be received along with curative treatment and focuses on enhancing the patient’s quality of life in accordance with their wishes and goals. Palliative care can be received by people of any age, from infants to the elderly. It is not always covered by insurance, although this is changing as palliative care becomes more accepted in mainstream health care.


Hospice is both a model of care and a defined CMS benefit. It is multidisciplinary care patients can receive at the end of their life, with the goal of helping the patient live out their final days in accordance with their wishes and goals. Patients cannot receive curative therapies at the same time as hospice care. As a defined CMS benefit, hospice is fully covered by insurance/Medicare, although patients must meet certain criteria to be eligible. Hospice care can be provided in the hospital, in a care facility or in the home. Hospice care workers also provide care and support to the patient’s chosen family, including bereavement care.

Both hospice and palliative care providers work with the patient and their loved ones to ensure that their goals of care are respected, including decisions regarding life-sustaining or life-prolonging treatment. Documents like the POLST form, Advance Directives and Living Wills are important for helping other members of the care team provide medical care that is in alignment with the patient’s wishes.