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Deciding When it’s Time for Hospice Care

hospice care patient with nurse

Hospice care is a type of specialized medical care that is focused on providing comfort and support to patients with a terminal illness or condition. The goal of hospice care is to improve the quality of life for patients and their families by managing symptoms, relieving pain, and addressing emotional and spiritual needs.

Given that about half of Hospice patients receive care for less than twenty days [1], are patients and their families waiting too long before taking advantage of Hospice services that are available to them?

The decision to begin hospice care is often a difficult one for patients and their families, but there are some signs that may indicate that it is time to consider hospice care. These signs may include:

  • The patient has a terminal illness and is no longer receiving curative treatment.
  • The patient’s condition has continued to decline despite previous medical interventions.
  • The patient is experiencing severe pain or other symptoms that are difficult to manage.
  • The patient’s life expectancy is 6 months or less.
  • The patient and their family are experiencing significant emotional, social, or spiritual distress.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these signs, it may be time to talk to your healthcare provider about hospice care. They can help you understand your options and make an informed decision about the best course of care for you or your loved one.

Eligibility for Hospice Care

nurse explaining medication to hospice patientYour doctor can tell you when you are eligible for hospice care. Medicare considers a patient eligible for hospice [2] when their life expectancy is 6 months or less (if the disease runs its normal course). Typically, when surgery, radiation therapy, medicine and other traditional treatments will not improve their condition or extend their life, a formal request or referral is made by the patient’s doctor and is followed by a hospice nurse visit to verify the condition. If you live longer than 6 months, you can still get hospice care, as long as the hospice recertifies that you’re terminally ill. Hospice care is provided in two 90-day periods followed by an unlimited number of 60-day periods. If eligible, Medicare pays for hospice care.

A Personal Choice

Though doctors determine the patient’s eligibility, it is still up to the patient and their family to decide when to start receiving hospice service. It is difficult to accept that a loved one may not be with us much longer, but while we cannot control the length of their life, transitioning to hospice care is the right step towards effecting their quality of life. It is essentially a transition from aggressive treatments to a focus on keeping the patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible as they approach their end of life.

family with hospice patientIn some cases the patient may prefer to be cared for by family members and those family members may be able to provide quality, personal attention. But in most cases, family members have limited time and their other personal and financial responsibilities may suffer as a result. They likely also lack the skills to provide the kind of quality care that a professional can provide. Handing off many of the daily chores related to caring for a seriously ill loved one also allows the family to focus their attention on the vital emotional needs of the patient and each other during this very sensitive time. In addition to providing the proper medical attention, the hospice nursing team can also assist in managing activities, entertainment, and family visits, all within the comfort and familiarity of the patient’s own home environment.

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