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By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 6 minute read

Enrolling in hospice care may be the best option when a patient has exhausted all other treatment options for a terminal illness. Hospice care, in contrast to traditional medical treatment, focuses on comfort and quality of life for terminally ill patients rather than on healing their condition.

Hospice patients and their loved ones get physical, mental, and spiritual support in the comfort of their own homes. Understanding how hospice care can aid your family if and when it becomes required helps ease many challenging end-of-life decisions.

Hospice Care: An Overview

Hospice Provides Services

Hospice care, as opposed to a hospital, is designed to satisfy the wide variety of requirements that arise for patients and their loved ones near the end of life. Because hospice care addresses every requirement that may arise in a terminally ill patient’s final weeks or months of life, it greatly simplifies care coordination for both the patient and their loved ones. The following are some of the services provided:

  1. Care from a Medical Professional. A hospice physician is a doctor who specializes in treating patients near the end of life, including the relief of their physical suffering. The team doctor handles all medical matters, including prescriptions and treatment programs.
  2. Nursing. Hospice care is delivered by qualified nurses in the patient’s preferred environment. Hospice care can be administered in a variety of settings, including the patient’s home, a nursing home, or even an inpatient hospice facility.
  3. Counseling. Multiple facets of counseling are covered by a hospice’s staff. Help from a qualified dietitian, a chaplain, or a social worker can all be a part of the counseling process.
  4. Bereavement Counseling and Support Groups. Work on grief with the patient and family can begin long before the patient passes away, and bereavement services are offered to the deceased’s loved ones for up to a year following the death.
  5. Aide de maison. A patient may need assistance at home beyond what a family member can supply. In addition to helping with basic hygiene, home health aides may also give patients a bath and do other personal tasks.
  6. The necessary tools for healthcare professionals. A hospital bed, oxygen, intravenous supplies, bandages, medication, and walkers are all examples of medical equipment that can be provided by the hospice team so that the patient can stay in their own home.
  7. Assist from others. A social worker and a group of volunteers at most hospices are there to help the patient and their loved ones gather resources and find emotional support during a difficult time.

If the patient’s health insurance has a hospice benefit, then all of these costs will be reimbursed. By and large, a hospice visit cannot be scheduled unless a doctor has given written consent. A hospice order is similar to a prescription in that it kicks off a patient’s care plan with the doctor’s approval.

There are four levels of care.

Each hospice patient receives care tailored specifically to their needs from the moment they enroll. Each hospice patient has access to all four levels of care, which may be necessary at different stages of their illness:

  1. Consistent Maintenance. When patients participate in hospice early in the course of their illness, they often get regular care as part of their hospice plan. The patient’s usual care can be carried out in any environment they consider to be “home,” and it is often delivered on an as-needed basis. Regular visits by nurses, aides, social workers, and chaplains are to be expected, but the vast majority of care may be handled by the patient and their loved ones.
  2. Maintenance of Health Constantly Provided. Hospice can provide round-the-clock care at the bedside with the support of nurses, aides, and social workers when a patient is experiencing a crisis, such as a rapid rise in pain or unmanageable symptoms. This treatment will continue until the emergency has passed and the patient can return to their regular schedule.
  3. Respite. In caring for a loved one in hospice, family members may get exhausted or burned out. After five days of hospice care, the patient is transferred to a contracted facility so that the family may take some time off. While the family takes a break, hospice care will continue at the designated location.
  4. General Medical Ward. In extremely rare cases, a hospice patient will need severe, around-the-clock pain care for acute and chronic symptoms, which is not practical to provide in the patient’s home. If this is the case, hospice can place the patient in an inpatient facility where medical care is provided around the clock, seven days a week. When a patient enrolls in hospice care extremely late in the course of their illness and requires intensive symptom management in the final days or hours of life, inpatient hospice care is typically the best option.

Hospice Care Has the Potential to Reduce Financial and Emotional Burdens

The costs associated with various end-of-life care options should be carefully considered by patients and their loved ones. It can be unsettling to consider how the possibility of bills and debt could affect healthcare decisions, which may prevent families from openly discussing the ramifications of their decisions.

A patient has the right to seek a curative treatment if there is any hope that it will alter the course of their sickness. Many people with terminal diseases (and their relatives, if the patient hasn’t made their preferences explicit through prior directives) nonetheless choose to undergo futile therapies in the last stages of their lives.

Many patients and family members choose “one more treatment” despite it being futile because they are afraid of dying, grieving to say goodbye, or are unsure of the prognosis. 

Although effective, these therapies are prohibitively expensive, require hospitalization for most patients, and do nothing to enhance their quality of life. Patients or family members may be responsible for paying some of the costs even if the hospital or insurance company is covering the majority of them. Even more tragically, if the therapies exacerbate rather than alleviate the patient’s suffering near the end of life, these costs can create significant financial strain and swiftly deplete a lifetime of savings.

However, starting hospice care at the end of life can save families money that would otherwise be wasted on ineffective therapies. Non-beneficial therapies are less likely to be sought in a hospice setting since the emphasis is on comfort rather than cure.

When hospice care is initiated months before a death is expected, it provides the greatest financial and emotional benefits to the patient’s family since the patient is less likely to be admitted to and discharged from the hospital for treatments that may or may not improve their condition.

How to Locate and Join a Hospice Organization

Given that there are over 4,500 hospice programs in the US, there are likely several options in your area. The location of the hospice organization is less important than the agency’s willingness and capacity to travel to the patient’s house, so keep that in mind as you begin your search.

Initiating hospice care requires two things: an order from the patient’s doctor and time set aside for an interview with the hospice of choice. All further care is handled by the hospice organization. A suitable hospice organization can be located in a number of ways:

  1. Please contact your insurance provider. Hospice services are generally favored by private insurance companies. Don’t waste time researching hospice programs online; instead, contact your insurance provider to find out which companies they endorse. The insurance provider is another good resource for details on coverage and prices.
  2. Check out the Hospice Organizations and Services List. Beneficiaries of Medicare or Medicaid may have a more challenging time restricting their options. Participants in this situation have the option of enrolling in any hospice program in the country that accepts Medicare patients. Hospice patients who are having trouble locating a provider should call the Hospice Directory for assistance.
  3. In case you need assistance, see a doctor. When writing hospice orders, many doctors have a preferred hospice agency they want to work with. If you have confidence in the doctor’s judgment, you should ask them which agencies they recommend.

Bottom Line

Hospice care can help alleviate the mental, emotional, and financial burdens that come with a terminal illness. Hospice care is there to make the last days, weeks, or months of a life that has been cut short by a terminal disease a time of comfort and tranquility for the patient and their loved ones.

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