Hospice vs. Comfort Care
Everyone wants to feel safe, comfortable and cared for at the end of their life. However, everyone’s end-of-life experience is different. An individual may have a fatal disease or condition with physical symptoms such as pain or trouble breathing. Another person may be experiencing a decline in cognitive functions, making it difficult to care for themselves or remember important people and places.
Regardless of the condition, end-of-life care can provide the support you or your loved one need. Hospice services offer emotional support and medical care, such as pain management, monitoring vital signs and various therapies to help you stay comfortable and maintain some daily functioning. Comfort care involves a patient care plan that alleviates immediate symptoms and improves quality of life for the patient. Emotional support is also available for family members and caregivers. Hospice care is intended for those with a life expectancy of 6 months or less, while comfort care doesn’t necessarily have a timeline.
In this guide, you’ll learn more about the differences between hospice and comfort care, average costs and which type of care may be more beneficial for your loved one’s condition.
Medicare Part A, Medicaid and private insurance
Medicare Part A, Medicaid and private insurance
Symptom control and pain relief for fatal conditions without curative intent for a life expectancy of 6 months or less
Symptom control and pain relief at any stage of a serious illness for an indefinite time
Who Should Consider It
Those with a fatal illness or condition
Those with a chronic or terminal illness
Hospice services provide residents diagnosed with a terminal condition with emotional, spiritual and physical comfort and support during their last moments of life. Instead of focusing on curing or delaying a fatal condition or illness, hospice is geared toward managing symptoms and pain to help you feel comfortable. To qualify for hospice, you or a loved one must be diagnosed with a condition likely to cause death within 6 months or less.
Care can be provided either in the patient’s home or a hospital setting. The specific type of care and services will vary based on an individual’s needs but typically include:
- Medical care such as monitoring a patient’s condition and administering medication to control pain and other symptoms
- Physical, speech and occupational therapy to maintain functioning
- Counseling or referrals to community resources for the patient and their family
- Spiritual services that align with the patient’s beliefs
- Respite care to give family caregivers a break
- Assistance with household chores, including bathing, dressing, preparing meals or helping the patient with mobility
- Bereavement support for family members after a death
For patients requiring elaborate medical care and monitoring, a residential hospice may be a better option. Care is administered in a hospital, skilled nursing facility or a separate hospice building. Residents have private rooms with homelike amenities such as curtains and a couch. Depending on the facility, visitors are usually allowed to come when they wish and bring items from home for the patient. The goal is always to make the patient feel safe and comfortable.
At-home hospice care is better suited for patients whose symptoms are controlled. Medical professionals such as nurses, counselors or aides travel to the home and administer care as needed. If the patient’s health starts to decline rapidly, causing severe distress or pain, around-the-clock nursing care may be necessary to maintain comfort.
Hospice care usually costs less than other types of end-of-life care because it requires fewer medical procedures and patients only pay for the services they need. Hospice care is covered by Medicare Part A and some forms of private insurance. Medicaid also provides an optional hospice benefit for coverage. Any prescription drugs used for pain management can result in a $5 copay under Medicare. Room and board may also need to be paid out of pocket if your loved one is in a facility like a nursing home. According to the 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the national average for a private room at a nursing home is $9,034 per month — but this price will vary depending on your location.
Comfort care is an essential part of end-of-life care involving a patient care plan focused on relieving physical symptoms to provide comfort and improve quality of life. Comfort care is a broad term that can include either hospice or palliative care, depending on the patient’s status. As mentioned earlier, patients must have a life expectancy of 6 months or less to qualify for hospice care, but palliative or comfort care doesn’t have a set timeline. You or a loved one can seek comfort care at any stage of an illness, whether chronic or terminal.
The primary focus of comfort care is to reduce patient discomfort from a serious illness. Physical symptoms that may affect a patient include:
- Trouble breathing
- Digestive problems
- Temperature sensitivity
- Skin irritation
Depending on a patient’s status, comfort care may not only involve providing care but also curtailing invasive treatments that may be contributing to a patient’s discomfort. Examples include:
- Stopping medications that don’t contribute to comfort
- Stopping therapies, lab work or diagnostic studies
- Stopping blood withdrawal or needle sticks
Instead of medical support, a patient may prefer comfort care providers to focus on emotional or spiritual care such as relaxation and breathing techniques or providing religious support. Pricing for comfort can vary depending on whether the treatment is being administered at home or a facility, but Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurers may cover the costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is comfort care only for terminally ill patients?
You can seek comfort care at any stage of a chronic or terminal illness. Hospice care focuses exclusively on providing comfort without curative intent for patients with terminal illnesses. Other types of comfort care, such as palliative, are appropriate for patients at any stage.
Can comfort care be done at home?
Comfort care can be provided at home. Visiting nurses or therapists can provide in-home care, such as administering medication or delivering necessary medical equipment to keep patients comfortable in their own living spaces. Care can also be extended to family members or loved ones who require emotional support during this time.
What isn’t usually included in hospice care?
Room and board fees at senior communities, curative therapies and prescriptions are usually not included in hospice care. Instead of providing endless treatments and surgeries, hospice is meant to ensure you or a loved one remains comfortable during your last moments.