You may hear the phrase comfort care interchangeably with hospice and palliative care. All these terms refer to medical care that reduces pain and other symptoms of a serious illness, while addressing the mental, social and spiritual needs of the patient.
Medical professionals may use the more descriptive terms of hospice or palliative care, rather than the more general wording of comfort care.
Palliative care is for people at any stage in their illness. The illness does not have to be life-threatening. Palliative care patients can still seek treatments to cure their serious illness.
Hospice is a type of palliative care for patients no longer seeking a cure for a life-limiting illness. Because of Medicare requirements, hospice is typically for patients with a life expectancy of six months or less.
It’s a common misconception that hospice patients don’t get medical treatment of any kind. Hospice patients are treated for their health problems, but they’ve made the decision to stop aggressive treatments for their life-limiting illness.
Comfort care, palliative care and hospice all address symptoms such as pain, nausea, constipation or respiratory problems. Patients can also get treatment for anxiety or depression.
Some of the most common medical conditions for comfort care patients include cancer, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke and Alzheimer's disease.
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, 48 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in 2016 were enrolled in hospice care at the time of their death. About 56 percent of those patients received most of their hospice care at home.
The decision to focus on comfort care is made by the patient in conversation with their doctor and family. Patients can also make their wishes known years beforehand in a document called an advance directive or living will.