Myths and misconceptions about hospice can cause some to fear it. Find out what hospice is and how it can help you and your loved one during life's final journey.
What is hospice care?
Hospice is a holistic approach to caring for people who are terminally ill. It involves a team of trained professionals, available 24 hours a day, who provide medical attention, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support tailored to an individual's needs and wishes. It's not a place — it's a concept of care that can be provided anywhere. Along with attending to the patient, hospice teams also provide compassion and support to grieving loved ones during the illness and beyond.
Introduced in England in the 1960s, the hospice philosophy upends old stigmas and treats death as a natural part of life. It does not prolong suffering, nor does it hasten the end. Hospice simply allows nature to take its course, with a sole focus on living life to its fullest in the final days.
How is hospice care different from palliative care?
Simply put, hospice care caters to those at the end of their life, while palliative care can be administered at any time during an illness. For more on palliative care and how it differs from hospice care, click here.
Who can receive hospice care?
Anyone, regardless of illness, culture, age, gender or financial status, can receive hospice care. A medical professional must give the individual a prognosis of six months or less to live and the individual must certify that he or she doesn't wish to pursue curative treatment.
How does it work?
The medical professional makes a referral to hospice. Then members of the hospice staff will conduct an assessment of the patient's overall needs as well as establish a care team. Along with the primary caregiver, the hospice team and the patient will outline an appropriate care plan.
From the moment a patient enters into hospice care, he or she may access a wide range of goods and services, such as:
- Physician services.
- Regular home visits by registered and licensed practical nurses.
- Home health aides to assist in activities of daily living, such as dressing and bathing.
- Social work and counseling services.
- Medical equipment, such as hospital beds and oxygen.
- Medical supplies, such as bandages and catheters.
- Pain management and symptom control.
- Volunteer support to assist caregivers and family members.
- Specialized services, such as nutrition counseling and physical, speech and occupational therapy.
Where do I find hospice care?
Hospice comes to the patient. Whether he or she is in a nursing home, hospice facility, hospital, or in his or her own home, hospice professionals will provide services wherever is most comfortable. This flexibility anchors the hospice mission and lets patients live their lives as they wish during this difficult time. Physicians and other medical professionals will know of hospice programs in the community.
Two other resources are the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Hospice Foundation of America. Both organizations offer databases of hospice programs throughout the United States.
How is hospice care paid for?
Medicare usually pays for hospice care. Medicaid pays in 43 states. Many other types of health plans, including health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs), cover the costs of hospice care. For patients who do not have insurance and do not qualify for Medicare/Medicaid, many hospice programs will offer free services.
Are all hospices alike?
Not quite, but they are similar. Each hospice program has its own characteristics and strengths that set it apart from others. All adhere to the core value of bringing comfort to the terminally ill. It's important to find out all you can about a hospice program you're considering. Some hospices are nonprofits and others are run like businesses. Click here for a checklist of questions to ask when reviewing programs.
Who regulates hospices?
Federal, state, and professional organizations evaluate hospice programs. Ongoing surveys ensure that they meet the standards developed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. The state licenses and Medicare certifies all hospice services.
What makes hospice unique?
Hospice addresses all the needs of the dying patient, including physical, emotional and spiritual concerns. Moreover, it provides support to family members and friends through bereavement counseling during and following the illness.