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Last Updated on November 3, 2021 by Frank Davis
Definition & Meaning of Hospice Care
Hospice care is a type of medical care for patients who are in the last stages of life. It focuses on creating a pain-free, comfortable environment for the patient, as well as maximizing comfort among the family. The goal is to provide palliative care and support to those who are dying. Hospice care is usually organized by a hospice or palliative care team and may also include physicians, nurses, and other health professionals.
Hospice care is provided in patients’ homes or in an institutional setting by trained professionals. Hospice care includes palliative medical services, support services for the patient and family, physical therapy, counseling for the patient and family members, spiritual support services, pastoral support if requested by the patient or family via clergy/chaplain services, pain management techniques including pain assessment and medication management.
Hospice care generally focuses on pain relief, providing “peaceful” environments for the patient and family, and making sure that family members are supported. Hospice care does not involve heroic treatments or expensive medical procedures. It focuses on a patient’s needs as a whole person, rather than his or her condition as a disease. It helps people focus on what they want to do instead of what they cannot do. Hospice is designed to provide dignity and comfort at the end of life rather than pinning hopes on futile medical procedures with uncertain outcomes.
Hospice vs Palliative Care:
Hospice and palliative care are both medical terms for treatment of dying patients. Hospice is the term used to describe the beginning stages of care for people who are terminally ill with a life-limiting illness or condition. Patients receive advanced medical care, pain relief, and support for their families. The goal of hospice is to help patients live as comfortably as possible for the time that they have left.
Palliative care helps patients live in comfort while receiving treatments. For instance, a patient with cancer might receive palliative care while receiving chemotherapy to help reduce the pain caused by treatments.
Services Provided by Hospice Care:
- Palliative care to help control pain, nausea, shortness of breath and other symptoms.
- Rehabilitative services to assist in physical recovery, perform occupational therapy to help the patient maintain daily skills for as long as possible. Physical therapy can be provided by certified physical therapists through this service, which is sometimes covered by health insurance carriers.
- Social work counseling for the families of patients who are in hospice care or their own home to help them cope with their situation and any anxieties they may have about the future.
- Information and support for family members before, during and after the end of life.
- Spiritual care services to provide guidance in the form of counseling or through pastoral or religious support when requested by the family.
- A bereavement team that assists surviving family members in coping with their loss when their loved one dies in hospice care or at home.
- Hospice staff is very skilled in helping family members with legal issues that may arise in the dying process.
- Instruction in caring for a dying person, including bathing, grooming and other personal care techniques under the direction of a hospice nurse or social worker who is trained in these services.
- Nutritional counseling to ensure that patients are receiving adequate calories and nutrients. The goal is to help patients die comfortably, instead of quickly from starvation or dehydration, which are the consequences of not eating during terminal illness. Patients are also provided with information on ways they can continue to eat nutritionally well even though they are no longer able to prepare meals themselves or go out to restaurants or buy groceries themselves.
- A visit or phone call from a Hospice nurse to assess the patient’s condition and comfort level, and to ensure that all of the patient’s needs are met by hospice staff.
Hospice care offered by trained professionals allows terminally ill patients and their families to focus on what they want to do instead of what they cannot do. Hospice is designed to provide dignity and comfort at the end of life rather than pinning hopes on futile medical procedures with uncertain outcomes. It is easy for patients and family members to be overwhelmed by the process of dying, but with hospice care, patients can enjoy their remaining days with being pain free and with dignity.
Hospice Care Frequently Asked Questions
How are you eligible for hospice care?
For a patient to become eligible for hospice care, the following requirements must be met:
- Insured through Medicare, Medicaid, VA, or a private insurance plan
- In order to receive hospice benefits, you will need a certification from the hospice and your primary doctor that you have a terminal illness with a prognosis of 6 months, if the disease runs its course normally
- With no intention of seeking curative treatment
What services does hospice care provide?
Among the services offered by hospices are the following:
- Physician Services – A primary care doctor and a hospice doctor or medical director will oversee care. Each patient gets to choose a primary doctor. This can be your prior doctor or a hospice doctor.
- Nursing Services – Nurses will come to your or your relative’s home or other setting to provide care. They are also responsible for coordination of the hospice care team.
- Home health aides – Home health aides can provide extra support for routine care, such as dressing, bathing and eating.
- Medical Equipment –
- Medical Supplies –
- Spiritual counselors – Chaplains, priests, lay ministers or other spiritual counselors can provide spiritual care and guidance for the entire family.
- Social workers – Social workers provide counseling and support. They can also provide referrals to other support systems.
- Pharmacists – Pharmacists provide medication oversight and suggestions regarding the most effective ways to relieve symptoms.
- Bereavement counselors – Trained bereavement counselors offer support and guidance after the death of a loved one in hospice.
- Volunteers – Trained volunteers offer a variety of services, including providing company or respite for caregivers and helping with transportation or other practical needs.
What if you live beyond six months on hospice care?
During the first six months, the benefit period is divided into two 90-day periods, each lasting about 3 months. Upon completion of the first six months, patients have unlimited access to 60 day periods. In other words, this means that upon completion of the six month period, you can continue to use hospice services for as long as you wish, as long as you are still certified to have a terminal illness.
When should I start hospice care?
The decision to begin hospice care should always remain in the hands of the patient. Your doctor and the hospice provider give you information that will help you come to an informed decision when it comes to hospice care. Hospice care may be an option for you if you meet any of the following:
- When you have exhausted treatment options and see no signs of improvement
- Your disease has advanced so far that your doctor has given you a prognosis of 6 months or less.
- Tired of treatments and the bad symptoms they are producing
- Hospitalized frequently, but prefer to stay at home
- You refuse to get curative treatments
Are you seeking hospice care?
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