Hospice care is palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice care

provider holding hand of patient, hospice care, palliative care, comfort care for illness, end of life care, life threatening diseases

Confused? The terms “palliative care” and “hospice care” are often used interchangeably when, in fact, they are not the same thing. Each has a different focus but they both share the same goal: to bring comfort and relief to the patient and family.

Palliative care: comfort care for illness

This type of care uses an interdisciplinary team approach to improve the quality of life for the patient and family. The approach is holistic, caring for the physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, legal, and advance care planning needs of the patient. This team is specially trained in palliative care and consists of doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists. They will work with the patient’s primary doctors to provide this “extra layer of support” as the patient faces serious or life-threatening diseases. Everyone will work to manage the symptoms of the illness to keep the patient comfortable.

A big point of difference from hospice is that palliative care is appropriate at any age and any stage in the serious illness disease process. Patients can still treat and try to cure their disease while receiving palliative care. Palliative care can be given in the hospital, outpatient clinic, nursing home, or in the patient’s home. This type of care is especially helpful in symptom management and navigating the course of serious illness.

Hospice: comfort care for illness leading to end-of-life

Hospice care also provides care with an interdisciplinary team, including doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides, music therapy, pet therapy, massage therapy, spiritual care, grief support, and volunteers. The focus of hospice is end-of-life care.

A patient is eligible for hospice care when they decide not to seek further curative treatments or when there are no other treatment options available. In hospice, it’s all about comfort until the end of life, living life to the end. A life expectancy of six months or less, as determined by a physician and disease trajectory, is another requirement for hospice enrollment. The hospice team helps to prepare the patient and family for the end of life, managing symptoms to keep their loved one comfortable and providing education and support along the way. Hospice care is provided in the patient’s home or long-term care facility. There are also hospice houses that specialize in round-the-clock care.


Hennepin Healthcare provides both palliative and hospice care. The palliative care team at HCMC provides consults to patients. One program, Palliative Life Support (PLS) is an in-home palliative program that provides care to patients facing serious illness and who wish to remain in their homes. The PLS team supports the goals of the patient/family and is an extra layer of care.

Hennepin Healthcare Hospice provides care wherever the patient calls home. This is intermittent care, meaning the team members visit throughout the week, but do not stay in the home on a 24-hour basis.  The hospice RN works closely with the physician to oversee the care of the patient. Once the patient dies, the bereavement team continues to reach out to the caregiver for up to 13 months after the death to provide grief support.

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