I know this is taboo, but let’s talk about the “H word”.
What “H word” ? Hospice.
And why would I want to talk about that?
Because too many people:
- wonder about hospice but are too afraid to ask
- tried to ask their medical team about Hospice but kept hearing, “it’s too early for that”
- wanted to know when hospice would be appropriate for their person, but found no one willing to answer their questions
So, I’m going to tackle the misconceptions head-on.
Here, I answer the 7 most common questions.
1. What is Hospice Care?
Hospice care is a type of medical care that can help those in their final days, weeks, and months live as fully and comfortably as possible. It prioritizes quality of life, relief of distressing symptoms, and supporting patients and their family’s spiritual and emotional needs.
Hospice Care neither hastens death nor postpones natural death and it adapts to fits the unique needs of the individual and their family.
2. Who can benefit from hospice?
Hospice is a valuable resource for the person in the last months of their life and their family. It’s a form of medical care for someone who may not benefit from or whose goals may not align with curative or life-prolonging treatments.
3. When can you receive hospice care?
You can receive hospice care if a physician thinks you have 6 months or less to live if the illness follows a natural course. Physicians don’t have a crystal ball; some people may die sooner, and others may live longer.
If you enrolled in hospice and live longer than 6 months, if a physician still thinks your risk of dying in the next 6 months is high, they’ll certify that you’re still eligible for hospice.
Some people may improve while on hospice care; in this case, they’ll “graduate” from hospice and can re-enroll when needed.
4. Where can it be provided?
People can receive hospice care where they feel most comfortable and where they can be cared for safely and effectively.
Many people choose to be cared for at home or in a home-like place, whether that’s a private home or a facility that has become home. Hospice care can also be provided in hospitals, hospice house, or other nursing facilities.
5. What services does Hospice offer?
A hospice team usually consists of an individual’s hospice physician (often your primary care or oncologist), a medical director (a physician trained in hospice), nurses, social workers, trained volunteers, clergy or other counselor, and home health aides.
It sometimes includes speech, physical, and occupational therapists collaborating to care for you.
As a team, they offer the following:
- An extra pair of eyes: A nurse will assess & manage symptoms and coordinate referrals to other members of the interdisciplinary team. They do not routinely stay for long periods or come specifically to administer medications. They support caregivers administering medications and assess patients as things evolve.
- 24/7 emergency hotline
- Durable medical equipment and medical supplies such as a hospital bed, commode, wheelchair, oxygen and respiratory equipment, surgical dressings, splints, casts, colostomy bags and supplies, prosthetic devices, leg/arm/back/neck braces
- Prescription medications to manage symptoms at the end of life (ie, pain, nausea, constipation, etc.)
- Inpatient care, intensive hospice care, if symptoms become too hard to manage at home
- Respite care, up to 5 days at a time, to relieve exhausted caregivers
- Bereavement support up to 1 year after an individual’s death
- Education on what to expect and how to care for the person through the dying process
6. Who pays for hospice care?
Medicare Part A pays for hospice care. Most private insurances also offer a hospice benefit modeled after Medicare’s hospice benefit.
Medicare will not cover the cost of room and board if you get hospice in your home, in a nursing home, or a hospice house UNLESS you’re receiving respite care or need inpatient hospice care.
7. How can you enroll onto Hospice?
You’ll want to ask your primary care doctor or specialist doctor for a referral to hospice.
Hospice wraps itself around you and your family, providing compassionate, comprehensive care at the end of life.
For many caregivers, the extra pair of eyes watching over their person, the couple hours of professional help, and the additional hands on deck were so useful they wished they had learned about hospice sooner.
So yes, let’s talk about Hospice because it could be a game changer for you or for someone you care for.
Now I want to hear from you! What’s one insight or “aha” you learned? Let me know in the comments below.
Got questions about when hospice could help you or the person you care for? Hop on a discovery call here – it’s completely FREE, with no strings attached, so you have nothing to lose.
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Ashwini Bapat, MD is a board-certified Palliative Care and Hospice Physician, coach, and co-founder of EpioneMD. She completed her Internal Medicine Residency and Hospice & Palliative Medicine Fellowship at Yale University, before working at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. As a coach, she’s devoted to empowering caregivers so that they’re seen, heard, and supported.
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