What is hospice and how can it help?

Hospice services can provide many benefits to patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones. We have found that hospice care can be an invaluable resource to support patients’ comfort and symptom management, emotional and spiritual well-being, and overall quality of life. In addition to directly helping patients, it can help families and caregivers feel more secure, supported, and knowledgeable in their role.

Hospice is a type of care rather than a place. Most hospice services are provided in patients’ homes. Services are provided by interdisciplinary teams, which include doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, trained volunteers, and others. Some hospices also offer complimentary therapies such as music and massage. Services are tailored to patients’ individual needs and wishes. Team members make home visits regularly and are available by phone as well. Staff is on-call 24 hours a day should you need help after hours.

Hospice services are also available to residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes. In these cases, the interdisciplinary team coordinates care with facility staff.

Patients with any kind of life-limiting illness, including cancer, advanced dementia, heart disease, lung disease, and other conditions, are eligible for hospice. Hospice care is for patients in advanced disease stages who are no longer pursuing curative treatment. If patients are in, or are possibly approaching this later life stage, we encourage them to talk with their doctor and consider taking advantage of the many services hospice can offer as soon as they are eligible. A patient’s doctor can certify eligibility and make a referral for hospice services.

Some people feel that hospice represents “giving up”. In fact, studies indicate that hospice patients actually tend to live longer than similar patients not on hospice. Researchers think this may be due in part to the supportive and comprehensive medical and emotional care hospice patients receive.

You may have also heard the term “palliative care”, which many hospice programs offer. This is a similar kind of patient-centered care available to people with serious illness who may be in earlier disease stages and/or may be undergoing curative treatment as well. Like hospice, palliative care can provide a team to help patients with pain and other symptom management as well as emotional and spiritual support.

Hospice services are paid for by Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance plans. Medications and medical equipment and supplies are also provided as part of hospice services. In addition, bereavement support is offered to surviving loved ones.

You can request an informational meeting with one or more hospice organizations to learn about what they can offer before making any decisions. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has an excellent list of questions to ask when choosing a hospice. Click here to access.