What Is Acute Care? (And Palliative Care vs Hospice)

– 5 Minute Read –

If you’re not familiar with the healthcare industry, you’ve probably asked “What is acute care, exactly?” The different types of medical care can be intimidating and confusing. There are so many different technical terms that it can be difficult to differentiate and remember each one.

Smiling nurse helping senior lady to walk around the nursing home

Since covering all of the different types of care would probably be information overload for one sitting, this blog will specifically cover 3 common types of care featured in Sprott Shaw’s Nursing and Health Care programs. Keep reading to find out what is acute care, palliative care, hospice care, and the differences between each.

What Is Acute Care?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), acute care “includes the health system components, or care delivery platforms, used to treat sudden, often unexpected, urgent or emergent episodes of injury and illness that can lead to death or disability without rapid intervention.”

Essentially, acute care is offered to patients who need intensive and immediate care from critical conditions like head injuries, respiratory diseases, serious trauma or bleeding, broken bones, or rapidly progressing labour.

Patients receive intense but short-term care for severe or life-threatening injuries, illnesses, routine health problems, surgical recoveries, or acute exacerbation of chronic illnesses.

Considering that acute care is administered when patients are in need of severe attention, its primary purpose is to restore their health and stability back to normal. In most situations, patients are discharged from acute care after stabilization and recovery.

With the dire nature of acute care, anyone (regardless of age, gender, or hereditary background) can be admitted. In fact, it can be practiced in a variety of environments including hospitals, urgent care clinics, ambulatory surgical clinics, emergency care, urgent care, trauma care, critical care, rehabilitative care, psychiatric acute care, and more. Understandably, acute care is regarded as one of the most serious and time-sensitive forms of care.

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What is Palliative Care?

According to the WHO, palliative care is a form of care that improves the quality of life for patients and their families facing problems associated with life-threatening illness.

This is accomplished through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification, assessment, and treatment of pain and other physical, psychological, and spiritual problems.

In-home palliative care

Essentially, palliative care services are administered to people who are living with chronic and serious conditions and illnesses including heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and more.

The key attribute characterizing palliative care is the fact that it occurs over a prolonged period of time – meaning that it can go on for several years and even throughout the entire life of the patient.

Types of treatment involved in palliative care programs often include pain management; symptom management; caregiver support; and social, psychological, spiritual, and emotional support.

Through these forms of treatment, patients can: see an improvement in their quality of life; reduce or relieve physical and psychological symptoms; experience a more peaceful and dignified death, and support loved ones while dying and afterward.

Palliative care can be offered in a variety of settings including hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices, and even at home.

Palliative Care vs Hospice

Two other major forms of health care that are often used interchangeably are palliative and hospice care. There are critical differences between needing palliative care vs hospice, which we will define below:

In contrast to acute care’s urgent nature, palliative and hospice care serve patients long-term. While palliative care often starts when the diagnosis has been confirmed and throughout the treatment process, hospice care often starts when it’s definite that the patient is not going to overcome the life-limiting illness.

In some instances, there may be no cure for a particular illness or a patient may no longer want to go in for treatment. In these cases, hospice care is then provided.

health care assistant helping elderly patient holding cup

Hospice care commences when a patient is in the final phase of a terminal illness or condition. Typically, this type of care is offered to patients with terminal illnesses that accord them with 6 months or less to live if the illness runs its natural course.

During this time, the patient’s comfort and quality of life are at the forefront. The main goal of hospice care is to make sure the patient lives each day to the fullest. Generally, treatment (but not medication for pain management and relief) for the illness stops during this stage.

Hospice care can be administered in almost any setting including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, inpatient hospitals, and even at home.

Because of the thin line between palliative and hospice care, the two can sometimes merge together to form hospice palliative care.

Training for Acute, Palliative, and Hospice Care

At Sprott Shaw, our Nursing and Healthcare programs train and prepare our students for acute, palliative, and hospice care situations.

The Health Care Assistant (HCA) program offers the course “Introduction to Acute Care Skills.” In the “Introduction to Acute Care Skills” course, our curriculum includes all of the basic introductory acute care and medication administration assistance concepts included in the HCA BC provincial curriculum.

After successful completion of the HCA diploma program, students will receive completion certificates for “Introduction to Acute Care Skills” and “Medication Administration Assistance.”

Other components in the HCA program include Basic and Advanced Hospice Palliative Care Training, Crisis Prevention Training, First Aid with CPR-C and AED, and WHMIS training.   

The Practical Nursing (PN) program prepares students to provide nursing care in the acute, geriatric, and home care settings in a variety of environments through theory-based learning and preceptorship and clinical opportunities.

Interested in learning more about the programs? Contact one of our advisors!

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