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BVHS Weekend Column: Hospice Care is Not a Death Sentence

by Chelsie Niese, RN, Clinical Educator, Bridge Home Health and Hospice

Chelsie Niese, RN

Many patients and their families decline hospice care because the patient is “not ready to die.” I understand and have empathy toward someone who does not want to die, but receiving hospice care does not cause death. The reality is hospice care enhances many patients’ quality of life so that they are able to enjoy more of their time with family and friends.

One of the biggest myths about hospice care is that the patient or family has given up. Many believe hospice is only for those with limited days or weeks to live, but that is not true. The goal of hospice is to simply maintain or improve the quality of life for the patient whose illness, disease or condition is unlikely to be cured. Hospice care helps to alleviate all symptoms of a disease but primarily emphasizes on controlling pain and discomfort. It also plays a major role in offering comfort and support to the patient and their families during such a delicate time.

Hospice does not speed up the onset of death. In fact, some patients receiving hospice care live longer. This is because their quality of life and emotional well-being have improved and allowed their body time to plateau instead of continuing to worsen. The biggest difference between hospice care and traditional medical care is that hospice care no longer focuses on “curing” the patient. It instead focuses on enhancing the patient’s quality of life by controlling symptoms such as pain and discomfort.

For a patient to receive hospice care, a physician must certify that the patient may not live beyond six months. However, do not dwell on this six-month time frame. The physician is not guaranteeing the patient will pass away within six months; physicians are required to reevaluate patients periodically to determine whether they still qualify for hospice care.

Hospice care is excellent for patients in progressive stages of non-curable diseases, the very weak or the extremely elder. One of the advantages of hospice is that in most cases physicians and medical staff come to the patient’s home. This can be extremely helpful for patients who are too weak or ill to travel outside of the home.

Caregivers can also benefit from hospice care. Hospice provides families more comfort, support, guidance and grief counseling than traditional medical care. Some hospice agencies offer 24-hour on call care and support to all patients and families every day of the week. Hospice care is also typically less expensive than hospital stays or emergency room visits and is covered under Medicare and many insurance plans. Furthermore, there is no cost to the patient for medications or medical equipment related to the patient’s hospice diagnosis.

Hospice is a valuable yet underutilized service. If you think hospice care may be right for you or a loved one, speak with your physician.

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