Hospice Care vs. Palliative Care: What Is the Difference?

The terms hospice care and palliative care are often used interchangeably—but while these two types of care share some overlap, they are also different in some important ways. In this article, we’ll take a look at the distinctions between the two approaches. 

What is hospice care?

Hospice care is focused on caring for and supporting patients and their families throughout the last six months or less of a patient’s life, with the primary objective being to provide comfort and life closure rather than to cure an illness. This approach to care differs greatly from other types of healthcare that aim to improve patient status. 

Hospice patients can include anyone entering the last phases of any terminal illness, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, heart failure, COPD, end-stage diabetes, HIV, and renal failure. Care is provided in a variety of settings, from home to skilled nursing facilities to hospitals—typically by interdisciplinary teams that include hospice nurses, social workers, aides, volunteers, and spiritual advisors who work with patients and their families using the principles of patient-centered care. 

Services performed by hospice teams might include: 

  • Assistance with personal care, such as bathing and grooming.
  • Bereavement support for loved ones.
  • Emotional and spiritual support, including integrating psychosocial and spiritual awareness into therapy practice to support patient and family end-of-life processes.
  • Providing patient and family education about disease process, including describing clinical features, functional measures, and palliative outcomes relevant to end-stage diseases.
  • Discussing the parameters of dying, including the physiologic process, trajectories, clinical prognostic measures, and signs and symptoms of approaching death.
  • Comfort therapies.
  • Providing medical equipment, supplies, and medications.
  • Pain and symptom management.
  • Physical, occupational, and speech therapy, including identifying hospice-appropriate fall risk assessments and implementing risk minimization with physical, psychosocial, and spiritual strategies.

Is hospice care the same as palliative care?

While hospice care is focused on supporting patients at the end of life, the aim of palliative care is to improve comfort and increase overall wellness in patients who have chronic but not necessarily terminal illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or advanced arthritis, and who are also often pursuing curative treatment alongside palliative therapies. It can occur at any point during the course of an illness. 

Like hospice care, palliative care is holistic, supporting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients and their families. For example, a cancer patient receiving palliative care might receive treatment to help with side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and fatigue, alongside visits from a social worker who addresses his emotional well-being and even provides care advocacy. 


What are the four levels of hospice care?

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that all certified hospice providers offer four levels of hospice care: 

  • Routine home care, which can be provided not just at home but wherever the patient is, on a regular but not everyday basis. This level of care best suits patients who aren’t in crisis.  
  • Continuous home care, which usually consists of hospice nursing care on a continuous basis in the patient’s home.
  • General inpatient care, which addresses acute symptom management on a continuous basis in an inpatient care facility. 
  • Inpatient respite care, in which patients receive care for up to five consecutive days in order to give their caregiver a rest. 

How can MedBridge help with hospice care?

The MedBridge Hospice Solution helps organizations solve their largest challenges by combining staff education, including expert-led online hospice-specific and nursing courses, with proven quality improvement solutions on a comprehensive engagement platform. With MedBridge, hospice organizations can elevate care quality and family satisfaction while reducing operating costs, streamlining onboarding, and boosting staff retention

Hospice agencies using MedBridge have been able to reduce new nurse time to productivity by seven days (and save $7,000), reduce the cost of hospice nurse onboarding by 17.9 percent, improve new nurse retention by 28 percent in the first 90 days, improve CAHPS scores to over 95 percent, and improve HIS accuracy by 14 percent.