A new medical term has caught the attention of those interested in quality of life in health care – palliative care. This is not a new term to the Hospice side of medicine. For the last 30 plus years, palliative care has been provided by hospice programs for dying Americans. Home health care also can have a palliative approach dependent upon the individual patient needs. To palliate means to make comfortable by treating a person’s symptoms from an illness. Where these three programs differ greatly is in the timing, payment and eligibility for services.
Hospice Care services focus on comfort and caring, not curing. This focus is on preventing and relieving suffering of the physical or emotional pain of disease symptoms and supporting patients with an anticipated life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice always provides palliative care, but it is targeted to those patients who are no longer seeking curative care. Hospice also includes services not dependent upon insurance coverage such as volunteers, bereavement, and quality of life items that provide additional patient safety and comfort. Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other insurances under the Hospice Benefit.
Palliative Care services focus on reducing the severity of the disease symptoms, preventing and relieving suffering of patients at any stage of a serious illness and can be used in coordination with curative care. It is not dependent upon a prognosis. This type of care is intended to be used to support the patient and family during and after treatment. Some treatments and medications may be covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Private insurance coverage varies and each item can be billed separately, just as they are at hospital or doctor visits.
Home Health Care services help you get better from an illness or injury. The intention is to help you regain your independence and become as self-sufficient as possible. It is usually less expensive and more convenient than care you would receive in a hospital or skilled nursing facility. Some treatments and medications may be covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Private insurance coverage varies.
All of these services can be provided in the home, including teams of individuals working together on behalf of the patient and family. Some providers can provide all of these services seamlessly where others can only provide them separately. This can be confusing to patients and families so it is important to know what is available and what is included by asking the important questions.
You have a choice. Be sure to choose the appropriate care service or services that work together to provide quality of life in a peaceful, dignified, supportive transition process for loved ones and family members.