Hospice care is available to patients with life-limiting illnesses to aid them in living as fully and comfortably as possible in the remaining months of their lives. It brings comprehensive care to patients, with a team of medical and spiritual professionals to help support and reassure patients and their families in what can be an incredibly difficult and emotionally-trying time. It is often more than simply a medical service; instead, hospice care involves a philosophy of care that emphasizes a patient’s quality of life and comfort by providing medical, emotional, and spiritual support.
Common Hospice Myths
Hospice care can be an incredible service for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones, and it is an important part of end-of-life planning. However, there are many myths surrounding hospice care that may prevent people from taking advantage of this form of care. Read on to learn more about hospice care — and the truth about hospice myths.
Myth: Hospice Means the Patient Has Given Up
One of the most common and persistent myths about hospice care is that it means that a patient has given up hope on curing their illness. While a decision to enroll in hospice care typically is made after an individual decides to stop treatment for their illness, it does not mean that a person has lost or given up hope. Instead, it means that the patient has reached a place of peace and acceptance and that he or she wants to make the most of the life that remains.
When a person has a life-limiting illness, they understand that their time on earth is limited. If treatment for the illness is no longer a viable option, hospice care can help patients in their final months live as fully and comfortably as possible. This type of care and support can help patients deal with feelings of sadness, anger, and pain, and allow them to focus on celebrating what time they have left with family and friends. It allows patients a measure of control over their lives, as they get to choose how they will spend their time. Most patients do not view this as giving up, but as coming to peace with their prognosis and deciding to live the best possible life for what time remains.
Myth: “Hospice” Is a Place
While there are hospice houses available to patients around the country, most hospice care takes place where it is needed: in a home, assisted living facility, or residential care facility. Hospice is not a place, but a type of comprehensive care that a patient receives when he or she has a life-limiting illness and have chosen to cease treatment to focus on comfort and quality of life.
Myth: Hospice Care Is Only for Cancer Patients
While a great number of patients who receive hospice care have some form of cancer, it is available to anyone with a life-limiting illness. Patients with heart conditions, lung disease, various forms of dementia, and other health conditions may all be eligible for hospice care. Anyone who has been given a prognosis of six months or less to live may qualify for hospice care, regardless of the type of illness that they may have.
Myth: Hospice Care Is Only for the Elderly
Hospice care is often associated with the elderly, but these services are not limited by a patient’s age. Sadly, a person of any age can be diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. As long as a patient meets the qualifications for hospice care, he or she will be eligible to receive these services, regardless of age.
Myth: Hospice Care Is Limited
To qualify for hospice care, a patient must have a life-limiting illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live. However, medicine is not necessarily an exact science, and a prognosis is not always precise. A patient may enroll in hospice care, only to improve and be discharged from care at a later date; this same patient may later re-enroll in hospice care, if necessary. Most insurance companies and programs, including Medicare, will pay for hospice care services for as long as the patient continues to meet the criteria, and a physician certifies that the patient has limited life expectancy.
Myth: Hospice Care Is Only for the Patient
While the decision to enroll in hospice care must typically be made by the patient, hospice care services are not exclusively offered for the benefit of the patient. Hospice care often provides support for family and friends as they help to care for their loved one, and offers much-needed respite for caregivers who are often overwhelmed by the needs of the patient. Emphasizing quality of life for both the patient and his or her caregivers is a priority for hospice care providers. Many hospice care programs also offer bereavement services for family and friends after a loved one passes.
Myth: Hospice Care Is Unaffordable
While the cost of hospice care varies, most patients who have either private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid will have coverage for hospice care services if they have a life-limiting illness. Patients with Medicare pay very little or nothing for hospice services. Uninsured and underinsured patients may be eligible for special programs, such as grants, to cover the cost of care. Some hospice care programs may also charge patients on a sliding scale basis, which varies based on their ability to pay.
Myth: Hospice Care Means Giving Up Medical Treatment
Hospice care emphasizes the comfort and well-being of the patient. While enrolling in hospice care is associated with ending treatment for a life-limiting illness, it does not mean that a patient foregoes all medical care. The patient will still receive treatment for pain and other symptoms, in order to enhance his or her quality of life. Individuals in hospice care also have the option to leave hospice care at any time to return to treatment for their life-limiting illness, and they can return to hospice care at a future date as needed.
Myth: Hospice Care Will Not Allow Use of a Preferred Doctor
Hospice care providers value the relationship that patients have with their primary care physicians, and will work with the patient and his or her treating physician to continue that relationship. This may involve coordinating in-home or office visits for care or consulting directly with the physician as part of the hospice care team.
Myth: Hospice Care Is a Decision Made for a Patient
Unless a patient is incapable of making a decision about his or her healthcare treatment and has a medical power of attorney in place, the decision to enroll in hospice care is his or hers alone. While a physician may recommend hospice care, it is up to the patient to make the ultimate decision about enrolling in care, including when to enroll and which provider to choose.
A physician will be required to certify that a patient has a life-limiting illness and a life expectancy of six months or less, but the choice to enroll in hospice belongs to the patient. Similarly, although a caregiver or loved one may suggest that a patient enroll in hospice care, the decision must ultimately be made by the patient, unless he or she lacks the mental capacity to make such a choice.
Myth: Hospice Involves Round-The-Clock Care
Most hospice care providers offer a team of support, including doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, bereavement counselors, and home health aides. These workers are available to patients around-the-clock, but they are not necessarily staffed at a patient’s home or care facility twenty-four hours a day. Instead, the team will schedule regular visits and address needs as they arise. There are some providers that offer continuous care, including through hospice houses, but patients must meet certain criteria to be eligible for those services.
Myth: Hospice Care Means a Patient’s End of Life is Near
While hospice care is only available to those patients with life-limiting illnesses with a life expectancy of six months or less, this does not mean that anyone who enters into hospice care will die shortly thereafter. A patient who enters into hospice care may stabilize during the course of care, particularly if needs that were neglected during care for the acute illness are addressed through hospice. It is also important to remember that a prognosis is not necessarily certain, and that some hospice care patients are able to leave services if their condition improves.
Myth: All Hospice Care Programs Are the Same
Each state has certain licensing requirements for hospice care providers. But, beyond meeting these basic standards, hospice care providers vary widely in terms of services offered, quality of services, and philosophy of care. Hospice programs can operate on a for-profit or nonprofit basis and may be affiliated with a religious institution. It is important to thoroughly research hospice care options to ensure that the care provided meets the specific needs required. A doctor or other healthcare provider may be able to provide recommendations regarding area providers.
Choosing the Right Hospice Care Program
When it comes to choosing a hospice care provider, look to one that meets a full range of needs, providing comprehensive services to help patients live the fullest possible life in whatever time remains. At Harbor Light Hospice, our providers emphasize dignity and quality of life for all of our patients. We offer a variety of services for our patients and their loved ones during what is often a difficult time. Contact us today to learn more about how our hospice services may benefit you and your loved one.