What’s the Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care?

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Medically reviewed by Kathryn Kirkland, M.D.

Palliative care

Is a form of specialized care to help people with serious illnesses and their families live as well as they can

Focuses on managing or reducing pain and other symptoms and offers other interventions aimed to improve quality of life

Can be used alongside medical treatments meant to cure the illness, and can help patients understand their treatment options and make choices about treatment that are aligned with their goals and values 

Can be helpful at any stage of serious illness

Does not have a set length of care and depends on what you need and what insurance will cover (if you have insurance)

Who makes up a palliative care team?


Palliative care doctors

Palliative care nurses

Social workers

Spiritual advisors or chaplains 

Team members work together to provide whole-person care, in collaboration with the patient’s other healthcare providers.

Palliative care can be given in a:


Specialized outpatient clinic

Nursing home

Patient’s home

Hospice care

Is a subset of palliative care that is for people with serious illness who doctors believe have 6 months or less to live

Is designed for people whose illness isn’t responding to treatment or who wish to stop treatment 

Focuses on quality of life and not prolonging life 

Lasts as long as life expectancy 

Hospice care can be given in a:

Patient’s home

Hospice center

Nursing home

Hospital (uncommonly)

Who makes up a hospice care team?


Hospice nurses

Hospice doctors

Spiritual advisors or chaplains 

Social workers

Volunteers trained to support patients and their families

Did you know? Hospice doesn’t mean stopping all treatments — just the ones (like chemotherapy for cancer) meant to cure an illness. 


For people with serious illness

Help manage symptoms and make decisions that align with their goals

Offer physical and emotional support to patients and families 

May be covered by Medicare or other insurance 

Palliative only:

Patients can receive care at any time after illness is diagnosed 

Patients can continue to receive treatments intended to cure their illness

Hospice only:

Patients can receive care if a doctor believes they have 6 months or less to live

Patients can no longer get treatments intended to cure illness

To find hospice and palliative care near you, visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.