Everything You Wanted to Know About Hospice Care but Were Afraid to Ask

January 27, 2017
Stethoscope and mask both on a table

If you’re like most of us, the topic of hospice can be uncomfortable. We all know our lifetimes are limited, yet we naturally avoid thoughts or discussions surrounding death and dying–especially when they involve a loved one.
This uncomfortableness is understandable. At the same time, dying is a part of life, and the final stages of our journeys needn’t be feared—they should be honored and understood. With that said, here are some FAQs about hospice to help you better understand a philosophy of care that affirms death while valuing life.

What is hospice care?

Hospice care is specialized care given to people who are in their last stages of life, whether from advanced illness or life-limiting injury. This type of care is specifically designed to focus on patient quality of life and comfort, rather than recovery or cure. In addition to medical services, hospice care provides patients with emotional and spiritual support. Hospice care also delivers guidance and support to the patient’s loved ones and caregivers during the care process and after their passing.

How does hospice work?

While cases vary, a family member of the hospice care patient usually acts as the primary caregiver and helps make decisions on their behalf. The primary caregiver and other family members then work directly with a hospice care team to set up a unique program of end-of-life care. The need for around-the-clock care is typically unnecessary, so most hospice patients only receive periodic visits from doctors, nurses, hospice aids, spiritual counselors, volunteers, and other team members. However, hospice doctors and nurses are usually on call 24/7 when support is needed.

Is hospice care different from palliative care?

Yes and no. Both hospice and palliative care are focused on providing comfort and support to people with serious illnesses. However, palliative care takes place during treatment, while hospice care is offered once it becomes clear that recovery is not possible.

Does hospice speed up death?

Absolutely not. Hospice care is designed to provide comforting and supportive end-of-life care, not to speed up or slow down the dying process. Choosing hospice care also doesn’t mean that you or your loved one has given up. On the contrary, it means that instead of fighting a terminal illness, you’ve chosen to focus on a different set of goals: maximizing comfort and quality of life. In other words, hospice is not about dying, it’s about living until you die.

How long does hospice care last?

While there is no set duration, terminal patients typically receive hospice care within the final six months of life. Contrary to popular belief, these individuals don’t need to be bedridden or physically incapacitated to receive and benefit from hospice care. The true focus of hospice care is not on timelines; it’s about improving the quality of life of patients who cannot be cured and ensuring they die pain-free and with dignity.

Do hospice patients need to remain homebound?

Absolutely not. Just because a patient is receiving hospice care doesn’t mean they’re bedridden or homebound. Hospice care patients should always live life to the fullest. If they’re able, that means they can keep attending church, going to see movies, visiting friends and family, and even traveling.

Can hospice patients recover?

Sometimes, but not very often. Although hospice care is designed to comfort and support the terminally ill, a hospice patient’s illness could go into remission and they may no longer need this type of care. If doctors believe a patient will live for more than six months, then care is stopped. Keep in mind that hospice care is not designed to cure, so these occurrences tend to be rare.

Where does hospice care take place?

Hospice care can take place in a variety of settings, from the comfort of an individual’s home to a hospital room to a memory care community. Regardless of setting, what matters most is that the hospice patient is comfortable in their environment and surrounded by caring professionals and loved ones.

How much does hospice care cost?

Patients with terminal illnesses don’t usually have to pay for hospice care. These costs are typically covered by private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid (in most states), and The Veteran’s Health Administration. Please check with these organizations or your private insurer for specific information regarding hospice costs and coverage.

How do I choose a hospice program?

Just like anything in life, not all hospice programs are created equal. Here are five tips to help you find a hospice program that best meets your needs.

  1. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider for hospice recommendations (which hospice would they choose for themselves or their family members?).
  2. Choose an accredited hospice provider that is state and federally certified and licensed.
  3. Ask for professional references including hospital staff or social workers who have worked with the hospice provider.
  4. Ask for references on the home care staff and confirm that caregivers are licensed and bonded.
  5. Get all costs, payment procedures, and billing agreements in writing.

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