By: Matthew Clark, PharmD, PGY-2 Pharmacy Resident in Pain and Palliative Care, Hospice of Southern Illinois
October is American Pharmacists Month and we present to you a series of end-of-life topics throughout the month by our very own, Matthew Clark, PharmD, PGY-2 Pharmacy Resident in Pain and Palliative Care! Our series will help expand your understanding of the field and debunk some myths in the field of pharmacy.
A common misconception in healthcare that can cause great distress and confusion to patients is that palliative care means hospice. The two terms are often inadvertently used interchangeably. Despite both areas being oriented around symptom management, it is important to understand the differences. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines palliative care as the active total care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. This approach aims to improve the quality of life of patients and their families through prevention of suffering by assessing and treating their symptoms.
Similarly, the goal of hospice care is to achieve the best quality of life for patients and their families. However, hospice is a service covered by Medicare Part A, Medicaid, or private health insurance. Patients who qualify for hospice have a terminal illness with a prognosis of 6 months or less. Terminal illnesses may include malignancies such as cancer, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A hospice team consists of a physician, registered nurse, social worker, hospice aide, pastoral counselor, volunteers, and pharmacist.
Understanding The Difference
Patients in hospice will receive palliative care services, for the goal is to prevent suffering by improving quality of life.
Understandably, patients in hospice will receive palliative care services, for the goal is to prevent suffering by improving quality of life. On the other hand, patients who receive palliative care may not have a terminal illness and therefore, may not qualify for hospice. For example, patients with pancreatitis may need palliative care in order to control their pain symptoms but do not qualify for hospice since pancreatitis is not terminal. Therefore, when discussing goals with patients, it is vital to understand the difference between the two.
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