Hospice care is unique in the healthcare system and as such, has a lot of misunderstandings that surround it. Some people have a negative image in their head when the word hospice is brought up, but many of the negative associations with hospice are easily debunkable myths. Hospice should be thought of as an overall philosophy regarding end-of-life care. It focuses on improving a person’s quality of life by managing symptoms and pain when a cure is not possible.
Hospice is an interdisciplinary approach to healthcare and includes professionals ranging from doctors, nurses, social workers, volunteers, spiritual counselors, and even bereavement specialists. Since many people want to stay at home surrounded by loved ones at the end of their life, hospice care allows that.
The first major advantage of hospice care is the cost-effectiveness for patients. Hospice care saves a lot on out-of-pocket costs since Medicare or Medicaid will cover all hospice related expenses, including medications, medical equipment, and medical supplies. For example, if a patient wants to remain in his own home, hospice will pay to have a hospital bed delivered in order to prevent future hospitalizations. Also, hospice care can be provided around the clock. Someone is always on call and they can visit at any time of day or night, once again preventing unnecessary hospitalizations.
Beyond saving families and patients money, the most well-known facet of hospice care is palliative care. Palliative care is essentially pain management. When someone enrolls in hospice care, they are assigned a team of medical professionals to oversee pain management, in an attempt to make the patient’s end of life as pain-free and comfortable as possible. Taking the focus off of pain allows the person to focus on their loved ones and those around them.
It’s worth noting that a person can receive palliative care separately from hospice, at any point in their lives, not simply at the end. Many people could potentially benefit from palliative care, but do not think themselves eligible since they are not near the end of their lives. Palliative care can be used as part of a treatment plan from diagnosis onward, whereas hospice care generally begins after the treatment of disease has stopped.
Palliative care is appropriate for anyone with a chronic illness experiencing a decreased quality of life due to symptoms related to their illness or treatment. This includes people on dialysis, chemotherapy, with heart disease, or even with dementia. Hospice care, however, is for patients who are no longer using curative treatments and want to focus only on improving the quality of life.
Past managing physical symptoms and pain, dealing with spiritual and emotional issues are often at the forefront as well. Regardless of religious background, hospice care coordinators can provide spiritual guidance to both patients and families. Even if a person is not religious at all, hospice professionals try to mitigate the fear associated with death, which, like pain medication, improves the person’s quality of life by reducing angst and depression.
Hospice is not necessarily about making people live longer, but rather about adding more life into the days they have left. When time is limited, hospice care significantly improves quality of life and allows a person to live the end of their life on their terms with the dignity and respect they deserve.