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Hospice facts

  • Hospice care is a service, which may be provided at home, in a hospital, a nursing home, or in a facility specifically designated for such service.
  • Hospice does not hasten or prolong death.
  • Hospice care may be recommended for patients with a usually less than six-month life expectancy and an incurable illness for whom the focus of care is primarily comfort.
  • The goal of hospice is to provide comfort, reduce suffering, and preserve patient dignity.
  • A team consisting of doctors, nurses, social workers, clerics, volunteers, and therapists participate in the care of hospice patients.
  • Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance carriers provide hospice benefits.

What is hospice care?

Hospice is a field of medicine that focuses on the comprehensive care of patients with terminal illnesses. Hospice need not be a place but rather a service that offers support, resources, and assistance to terminally ill patients and their families.

The main goal of hospice is to provide a peaceful, symptom-free, and dignified transition to death for patients whose diseases are advanced beyond a cure. The hope for a cure shifts to hope for a life free of suffering. The focus becomes quality of life rather than its length.

Hospice care is patient-centered medical care. A host of valuable services are offered to address every aspect of the patient's care as a whole. This is achieved by considering each individual's goals, values, beliefs, and rituals.

Why is hospice care important?

In many chronic and progressive conditions such as cancer, heart disease, or dementia, the natural disease process can ultimately reach an end stage. Most of the time, as a disease progresses to an advanced stage, its symptoms become more intolerable and difficult to control. As a result, an end-stage condition can significantly impair a person's functional status and quality of life.

At this point, often there is no further cure or treatment to control the progression of the disease. Furthermore, aggressive treatment may only offer little benefit while posing significant risk and jeopardizing the patient's quality of life.

In such late stages of diseases, hospice can offer help for patients and families. The use of the term "nothing left to do," is generally to be avoided by health care professionals. There may be nothing with curative potential to do, but there is always something to do that helps with symptoms or improves quality of life. There are many aspects of a patient's well-being that can be addressed. Hospice can play a key role in managing physical symptoms of a disease (palliative care) and supporting patients and families emotionally and spiritually.

Hospice care promotes open discussions about "the big picture" with patients and their loved ones. The disease process, prognosis, and realities are often important parts of these discussions. More importantly, the patient's wishes, values, and beliefs are taken into account and become the cornerstone of the hospice plan of care.

Hospice and palliative-care philosophy encourages these type of discussions with treating physicians early on in the course of a terminal disease. Patients can outline their preferences before they become too ill and incapable, thereby relieving some of the decision-making burden from family members. Advance care directives can be discussed and their completion facilitated in this setting.


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