Hospice care is physical, spiritual, emotional and social support for seriously or terminally ill patients who no longer respond to cure-oriented treatments. Hospice care also provides important assistance to the families of their patients, helping them negotiate the emotional challenges and practical necessities of caring for a dying loved one.
Hospice care focuses on keeping patients as comfortable as possible as they near the end of their life, without aggressive interventions. Ideally, with the help of a hospice care organization, patients can die on their own terms–well cared for, comfortable, and surrounded by loved ones.
Hospice care places a priority on managing pain, determining care goals and preserving the dignity of patients and their families. Hospice believes that the end of life is not a medical experience, but instead a human experience.
Hospice care does not attempt to lengthen life through extraordinary means such as feeding tubes, intravenous fluid replacement, dialysis or even antibiotics. However, aggressive pain management is typically a goal of hospice care.
Hospice care is normally provided by a team of professionals. A typical hospice interdisciplinary team includes the patient’s physician, a hospice doctor, nurses, social workers, spiritual advisors, home health aides and trained volunteers. It may also include specialists such as pharmacologists, dieticians and physical or occupational therapists, if needed.
Hospice care is usually administered in a patient’ home, but it can also take place in a residential hospice facility. Hospice care might also take place in a caregiver’s home, nursing home or hospital.
Most hospice care programs offer the following benefits:
Basic medical care which emphasizes pain management and symptom relief
Personal care (bathing, shaving, nail care, etc.)
All necessary palliative drugs and therapies
Medical supplies and equipment
Counseling and social services for the patient and family
Volunteer assistance with tasks like shopping, babysitting and running errands
Spiritual support by clergy or other spiritual counselors
Short term inpatient care, if necessary
Respite care for caregivers
Access to a member of the hospice team 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
When a patient decides he or she is ready for hospice care, a simple phone call to a local hospice care program can start the process. A request for a formal referral from the patient’s doctor will be made by the hospice program.
Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid (in most states) and most private insurance, as long as the patient’s doctor certifies that the patient’s life expectancy is six months or less.
After going through the hospice care experience with a loved one, most family members say that they wish they had asked for hospice care sooner. The emotional and physical support that the family and patient receive during the difficult end-of-life stage cannot be underestimated.
Family members who have enjoyed the many benefits of hospice recommend that anyone who thinks they may need hospice care in the future should begin researching the hospice care programs available in their local community now. Planning ahead for hospice care will mean less stress on the patient and family when the time comes to initiate services.