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Hospice vs. Home Health Care: How Do They Compare?

By Evalisa McClure

As people experience ongoing physical/mental decline or face the challenges of an advanced illness, they often decide they need some type of healthcare in the home, wherever home may be.

This raises a common question: what’s the difference between hospice care and home health care? VITAS® Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, offers these explanations:

  • Hospice is comfort care provided to a patient who has been given a prognosis of 6 months or less for an advanced illness when curative treatments are no longer effective or preferred. Hospice care manages symptoms and pain while focusing on quality of life—not recovery—for the patient and family.
  • Home health care helps patients recover from injury or illness, or improve functions they have lost from illness or decline. Patients must be homebound and continue to show improvement in order to keep receiving home health services at home.

Both types of care help avoid repeat trips to the hospital or emergency room by allowing patients to be cared for at home. Key differences are evident in these areas:

What types of care are provided?

  • Each hospice patient receives an individualized care plan that is tailored and updated regularly, based on their medical, emotional, and spiritual needs—and the needs of their family.
  • Home health care patients receive specialized care that is targeted for improvement and independence, evaluated weekly and offered for a limited time.

Where is care offered?

  • Hospice can be provided in a private residence, nursing home, or assisted living facility.
  • Home health care is limited to a private residence.

Who provides care?

  • Hospice care is provided by a team: physician, nurse, aide, social worker, chaplain, volunteer, and bereavement specialist. Four levels of care include routine home care, general inpatient care, continuous care at the bedside for temporary management of symptom flare-ups, and respite care for caregivers.
  • Home health patients receive care from nurses or specialized therapists (physical, speech, occupational) based on their individual diagnosis and needs. A home health patient’s progress must be documented, and they must show improvement to continue receiving Medicare-covered care.

Is it covered by Medicare?

  • Hospice: The Medicare hospice benefit covers up 100% of care related to a patient’s terminal diagnosis, plus home medical equipment, supplies, and medications.
  • Home health care: Medicare does not cover medications, and patients may be asked to cover the costs of supplies and equipment.

Evalisa McClure is the general manager for VITAS Healthcare in Western Pennsylvania. To learn more about end-of-life care options, call VITAS at (866) 759-6695 or visit VITAS.com.

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