Hospice care is a type of medical care aimed at improving quality of life for people with a life-limiting illness who have reached the final stages of their lives. In addition to providing physical comfort and symptom relief, it addresses their mental, emotional and spiritual needs.
Hospice is given to patients in their own home whenever possible. Many patients prefer to be in a familiar setting where family members can come and go with ease. Patients who reside in a nursing home can receive hospice care at the facility.
Hospices also offer in-patient facilities for those who need temporary hospitalization due to more severe symptoms. In-patient facilities can also be used to provide respite care for patients whose caregivers need a break for personal or medical reasons.
Hospice teams are on call 24 hours a day, and their nurses can respond to emergencies within minutes. They can send aides to assist with daily living activities, such as feeding and bathing, if necessary. Many hospice programs also have chaplains and social workers on call.
Hospice care can help patients with terminal cancer, heart failure, chronic lung disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, AIDS, end-stage Alzheimer’s, a stroke that is expected to end life and other life-limiting illnesses.
To qualify for hospice, patients must have been told by a doctor that they are unlikely to live for more than six months. However, some people’s time in hospice care may be longer or shorter than six months. Even after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, it is not possible to say exactly how much time a person has left. This makes it difficult to predict how long a person will remain in hospice care.
Factors Affecting The Hospice Care Timeline
A report from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) revealed that the average length of a hospice stay was 24 days, but this number has been rising over the past few years.
Experts believe that patients could benefit from longer stays in hospice, and many patients’ families have said that they wished they had contacted hospice sooner. Studies have pointed to three months as the ideal minimum. The NHPCO report showed that three fourths of Americans who get hospice care receive it for less than 180 days.
Here is a closer look at some of the factors that can influence how much time a patient spends in hospice care.
Severity Of Illness Or Disease
Although doctors cannot precisely determine how long a person will live with most illnesses, those with a more severe illness or disease might spend less time in hospice. When patients are referred to hospice late in their disease’s progression, they might only spend a short period of time in hospice. Different diseases will pose different challenges, so the patient’s needs will dictate the care that is given.
If a patient’s health has not improved or has declined at the end of their first six-month hospice period, they can continue to get hospice care if their doctor or medical director recertifies that they are terminally ill and are still expected to live for less than six months according to the usual course of their disease. When that happens, a person could spend a year or longer in hospice care.
Some hospices report a high percentage of patients who are in care for longer than six months. These patients have not improved to the point of receiving an extended life expectancy, and they are still expected not to live beyond six months.
Kaiser Health News reports that it is more difficult to predict when patients with heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease will die compared to cancer patients. This has led to more patients needing extended stays in hospice.
Effectiveness Of Medication
The effectiveness of the medication a patient is taking can influence the amount of time they spend in hospice. If it is working well, it can prolong their life and may even improve their condition to the point of discharge.
Improvement Of Patient Health
If a patient’s health improves, they may be released so they can undergo more active treatment. Those whose illness goes into remission will also be discharged. It is important to note that if a patient’s condition improves enough that their life expectancy changes to longer than six months, they will not be eligible to continue hospice care under Medicare.
When a patient is discharged from hospice program, they will return to the coverage and care they had prior to hospice, which may be Medicare or private medical insurance. The patient can return to hospice care at any point in the future if they meet the eligibility requirements again.
Start Your Hospice Care Journey
Patients who are approaching the end of life and their loved ones can benefit from getting hospice care as early as possible. Hospice care can help improve symptom control as well as the emotional well-being of patients and their families. Get in touch with the compassionate hospice care team at Harbor Light Hospice to learn more about how they can support your loved one’s journey.