Most people don't like to think about death and dying, especially when it comes to ourselves and our loved ones. Yet, Americans are becoming more aware that hospice care can help people go through the dying process with comfort, dignity and a better quality of life.
According to the most recent available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Medicare, 46 percent of people who died in the United States in 2014 received hospice services.
"Even though the number of people who know about and receive hospice services has increased greatly during the past few decades, many people still don't have a clear understanding of hospice care and its benefits," said John Thoma, CEO of Transitions LifeCare.
Here are a few common misperceptions and the correct facts about hospice care, according to Thoma:
Myth: Hospice is a place.
Fact: Hospice is a service and a model of whole-person care.
While hospice organizations typically have administrative offices and may have an inpatient facility to care for patients with a high level of medical needs, hospice is not a place.
Hospice is a best practice approach to physical, emotional and spiritual care designed to manage pain and other symptoms, keep patients more comfortable, and empower them to meet their end-of-life goals. Nearly 60 percent of patients received hospice services in their homes in 2014.
Myth: Hospice is for the final few days of life.
Fact: Hospice can benefit patients for months leading up to their death.
"A sad situation is that patients and families and physicians turn to hospice care much later than they could or should," Thoma said.
Medicare and other insurance providers typically cover hospice benefits in full for 180 days. But according to Medicare data, 35 percent of hospice patients receive care for seven days or less, and 50 percent receive hospice care for 14 days or less.
"The sooner patients and families start hospice care, the more help we can provide to make their final months more comfortable and fulfilling," Thoma added.
Myth: Hospice makes people die faster.
Fact: Hospice patients live longer on average than patients who forgo hospice care.
Since hospice patients receive pain and symptom relief, and supportive care rather than curative treatments, some people believe patients die more quickly if they accept hospice services.
Actually, the opposite is true. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that terminally ill lung cancer patients with hospice care lived an average of three months longer than patients who didn't seek hospice care. Another study that included six different terminal illnesses showed that patients with hospice care lived an average of 29 days longer than those without hospice care.
Myth: Only one hospice serves your area, and that’s who you use.
Fact: Multiple hospice providers are available, and you have the right to choose.
"It's common for families to think that only one hospice serves our area," Thoma explained. "Some believe hospice is a government-run program and the patient goes to the hospice that serves their county."
Thoma pointed out that several hospice providers are actually available, including not-for-profit hospices and for-profit providers.
"Patients have the right to choose their hospice provider, even if a doctor refers them to a specific hospice," he said. "Families should investigate their options, interview the available providers and choose the one that best meets their needs and wishes for care."
This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.