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Last Updated on June 4, 2021 by Frank Davis
How long do hospice patients live? This is a question that friends and family of loved ones in hospice care want to know the answer to. What you learn may surprise you, especially since there is a significant difference between a doctor’s prediction and what the reality is.
What Studies Have Found
Several studies have come to a similar conclusion: giving an accurate estimate for how long do hospice patients live is incredibly difficult due to how many variables there are.
Usually, three major factors will determine how long a hospice patient lives:
- What disease they are suffering from.
- How much the disease has progressed.
- How long they had the disease before going into hospice care.
Based on a study looking at five hospice care programs located in Chicago, Illinois, the median length of time a terminally-ill patient in hospice care lived was just 24 days. This short period of time drastically differed from what the rosier prognosis given by a doctor was. In fact, only 20% of the predictions were correct. An overwhelming majority of the prognoses (63%) were over optimistic.
This high degree of error in predicting how long a patient in hospice care has to live can have tragic emotional consequences for both the patient and their loved ones. If the prediction is suggesting that the patient has longer to live than they actually do, friends and family may not have enough time to give the goodbyes they would like to give. They may also be unable to be by their side as they transition, which can lead to deeper grief, more regrets, and greater frustration.
Another study found that when an oncologist is broader in their predictions, such as estimating that a patient has anywhere up to a year to live, their degree of accuracy shoots up to 74%. This sort of prognosis allows a patient’s friends and family to be prepared for the inevitable to occur at any time within that year, which helps avoid the repercussions of providing a more specific prediction.
When it comes to how long do hospice patients live, the answer is less than a month. Experts believe patients need at least 90 days to start benefiting from the hospice care program. Given the short amount of time, along with the overly optimistic prognoses usually given by doctors, the quality of hospice care provided to patients and their loved ones is diminished. Oncologists have become aware of this high level of inaccuracy, which is why they have become reluctant to provide specific estimates.
Everyone in hospice is dealing with a different disease within a body that responds differently. That makes more specific and short-term estimates highly inaccurate. The ideal approach is to keep an estimate for a hospice patient’s life expectancy broader.
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