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Palliative Care

Performing a Google search on palliative care can often appear more confusing than informative. The search result mimics what would also be found if one were to perform a hospice search with a couple noted exceptions.

The first exception being that palliative care is for people with curable, chronic, or life-limiting illnesses, whereas hospice is only for those with a terminal or life-limiting illness. The second exception is that patients under palliative care are seeking medical interventions to either cure their disease or to slow down the progression of their illness, whereas hospice patients want to focus fully on quality of life and symptom management without tests or aggressive medical interventions.

Overall, the philosophies of both care levels include comfort measures focused on the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient. The reason why a patient would choose one level of care over the other, would most likely be dictated by the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, and goals.

When hospice was first introduced to the United States in the 1970’s it was referred to as palliative care. Often delivered by volunteer caregivers at religious institutions or in faith-based communities, the goal of hospice/palliative care was to alleviate pain and suffering to those who were ill. About that same time, Canadian surgical oncologist, Balfour Mount coined the term palliative care to distinguish it from hospice care. His belief was that hospice fell under the umbrella of palliative care – same but different.

Palliative or Palliate is derived from the word pallium known as the Latin word for cloak. To palliate is to cloak, or cover up, much like addressing the symptoms of an illness without curing it.

In 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) began to recognize palliative care as a specialty dedicated to relieving suffering and improving the quality of life for patients who qualified. Following a slow progression, a decade later palliative care units were established in hospitals across the United States. Today, palliative care is not only found in hospitals, but in nursing homes, ambulatory care centers, and in home care settings.

The global interpretation of palliative care varies and often is interchangeable with the word hospice. In the United States, many people view palliative care as the “bridge” between full treatment interventions and comfort focused end of life care.


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