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What Do I Need to Know About Hospice Care?

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Hospice care, which strives to relieve the symptoms and suffering caused by a terminal illness, becomes an option when a patient has been given six months or less to live. It means that choosing a hospice provider for yourself or a loved one is often a choice made under duress.

What should you know about hospice care? Is it the same or different than palliative care? I have often heard the terms used interchangeably.

Like hospice, palliative care is designed to relieve suffering and empower patients. However, palliative care can be used by any patient with a serious illness.  It doesn’t require a terminal prognosis to qualify.

I have had numerous families express great appreciation for the hospice care a loved one received and the help it provided to their family with the dying process.

Hospice does require a terminal prognosis and is a more intensive service designed to be used when a person has an illness that is in advanced stages.

AARP’s recent article, “How to Find a Quality Hospice,” explains that hospice care in America is most commonly provided in the patient’s home or in a long-term care facility where the patient already lives. The hospice team will visit frequently.

“The ultimate goal for hospice care is to take in the patient and family, hold their hands, and provide all the care they need,” says Jennifer Kennedy, senior director, regulatory and quality, for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. That includes leaving the family with a belief that they did the right thing for their loved one. “We only have one shot to get it right,” she says.

Hospice and palliative care experts recommend, if possible, interviewing several prospective hospices to weigh the type and quality of their services. When you’ve identified several promising hospices and called to request an informational interview, bring a list of questions to help you determine the type and quality of care your loved one will receive.

The way in which the hospice responds to the initial inquiry will be important. If a hospice agency doesn’t make the patient and family feel nurtured and listened to from the very first call for help, look elsewhere.  Don’t feel guilty about beginning your search as early as possible so you don’t make a decision in a crisis. Here are some questions to ask a hospice provider:

  • Does the medical director make home visits to address complex symptoms?
  • How does the hospice respond to patient crises after hours?
  • Does the hospice provide all of the levels of care required by the Medicare hospice benefit?
  • Is the facility accredited by one of the national organizations that survey hospices on their quality?
  • Are staff members individually certified as experts in their field by their recognized professional bodies?
  • Do they have a volunteer program, and what does it include?

What you should know about hospice is that it can be a great guide to families at the most difficult of times.

Reference: AARP (June 27, 2019) “How to Find a Quality Hospice”

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