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Hospice Care

What is hospice care and who qualifies for it?

Hospice care is a type of specialty medical care for people near the end of their lives that focuses on maximizing comfort for the patient and support for the patient and their family. That includes reducing physical pain and tending to the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and the family.

Generally, to qualify for hospice care, the patient must have an incurable medical condition with an anticipated life expectancy of less than six months. The types of medical conditions that patients have include end-stage cancer, advanced dementia, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

​Where do patients receive hospice care and who provides it?

Hospice care is an approach to medical care, not a specific place, so it can be provided in a number of different settings. The choice of settings is up to the patient and family. Providers are an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, home health aides, pharmacists and others who will tend to the patient no matter what setting they choose.

Hospice can be delivered in a nursing home, at the hospital, or at home. The hospice team helps to provide equipment, supplies and staff to assist the family to care for their loved one. They provide regular visits and are generally available around the clock for concerns as they come up.

What are some common misconceptions of hospice care?

There is a misconception that hospice care is “giving up” on medical care. Actually, hospice care is a specific type of compassionate medical care for patients in the last stages of incurable disease to live as fully and comfortably as they can. A primary aim of hospice care is to manage the patient’s symptoms so that the patient’s last days can be spent with their loved ones, with dignity and the highest quality possible.

A second misconception is that once a patient enters hospice care, they can no longer receive any medical treatment. This is not true. Patients receive medicines to help their symptoms and alleviate their pain. They and their families can also choose to leave hospice at any point and resume, say, active treatment for their cancer.

What are the benefits and blessings of this type of care?

In modern medicine, the tendency is to approach diseases as something to be cured. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. The patient may choose not to continue certain treatments that cause severe pain when there is slim chance for a cure. When there is limited time left to live, that patient may wish to minimize suffering and to prioritize spending the remaining time with their loved ones.

Does insurance cover hospice care?

Most hospice patients are eligible for Medicare, which provides for hospice care through Medicare Hospital Benefit. Medicaid also pays for hospice care in many states, and many private insurers will cover it. For patients who don’t have insurance, there are some community programs that offer sliding scale coverage or free care.

What’s the difference between hospice and palliative care?

There are physicians, nurses and other medical professionals who specialize in hospice and palliative medicine; these are very much complementary and related fields of medicine that share a similar philosophy.

Palliative care, like hospice care, also prioritizes easing suffering, improving the quality for the patient, and delivering that care in a way that centers the patient and family. But differently from hospice care, the patient doesn’t have to forgo curative treatment – palliative care can be provided together with curative treatment. Over time, if it becomes apparent that the patient is likely to die within six months, palliative care can transition over to hospice care.

Both hospice and palliative care are important specialty medical services that are underutilized, and can offer much support and comfort to many more patients and families.

If you think Hospice Care might be right for you, your family member, or your patient, or if you have questions about the referral process, please call us at 215-550-1938.

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