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When is it time to talk about hospice?

When is it time to talk about hospice?

Categories: Blog, hospice and end of life care

Key Points:

  • Hospice is a health care option for people with any kind of life-limiting illness.
  • Hospice care does not shorten life. To the contrary, patients enrolled in hospice care live, on average, 29 days longer than patients not in hospice care.
  • Patients enrolled in hospice care report higher quality of life and better symptom management than patients not in hospice.
  • Anyone can start the conversation – you don’t have to wait for a doctor’s referral to learn about hospice care.

When people hear the word “hospice” they can become fearful about what it means – but hospice is simply a supportive health care option for those who are facing a life-limiting illness. When it’s time for hospice, the focus is on quality of life and making sure patients can live according to their priorities. Managing symptoms of serious illness, like pain, becomes a priority, to allow patients to spend time with family and continue activities they enjoy.

Many people are surprised to learn how helpful hospice can be. Karren Weichert, CEO of local hospice provider Midland Care, explains: “what we often hear from patients and their families is that they wish they had talked to someone about hospice much earlier. They find when they get the care of a specialized medical team managing symptoms, they can have higher quality of life.”

Weichert’s experiences are supported by national research. One study conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas in 2004 found that patients enrolled in hospice care report higher quality of life than patients not in hospice. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHCPO), which collects data from hospice providers around the country, reports that most patients who enroll in hospice say that their pain is brought to a comfortable level within 48 hours of initial assessment.

Part of what makes hospice so helpful for families is the interdisciplinary approach to care. Each patient and their families are served by a team of highly-qualified professionals that includes doctors, nurses, home health aides, chaplains and social workers. Volunteers also pitch in, offering companionship, help with errands or breaks for caregivers. Patients and their loved ones often develop close relationships with their team members, who use their personal knowledge of the patients to direct their care.

“At the time my aunt was being cared for by Midland Care, she and my mom both were living with me” explained a caregiver served by Midland Care Hospice Services last year. “I can’t imagine going through this without the help of hospice. Her nurse was very special to our family and so helpful. My aunt really loved her and looked forward to her visits. Also, the helpline got me through several crises. She lived about a year longer than they thought she would but Midland hung in there with us. I’ll always appreciate what they did for us.”

Despite the benefits, many people are reluctant to discuss hospice care. Sometimes patients assume doctors will bring up hospice when it becomes appropriate, but doctors are often waiting for patients to indicate they’re ready to talk about it. This often results in patients enrolled in hospice care for very short periods of time, getting fewer benefits from the team of professionals ready to assist them and their families.

One barrier to discussing hospice is the idea that enrolling in hospice will shorten life. To the contrary, a 2007 NHCPO study found that patients enrolled in hospice care live, on average, 29 days longer than patients not in hospice care. The specialized care and symptom management hospice provides actually lengthen lifespan as they help patients live to the fullest.

Many also wonder about the cost of hospice services. Hospice care is a covered benefit under Medicare Part A and Medicaid.  Most private insurance companies also have a hospice benefit.  As a not-for-profit, Midland Care receives community financial support that allows them to provide hospice care options to those without insurance.

Anyone, including caregivers, family, friends or professionals, can start the conversation about hospice. Not-for-profit Midland Care has provided hospice care in the Topeka area for 41 years. A group of hospice nurses and physicians is available 24-hours a day to patients or their families. If you or someone you love could use help, call today.