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Hits and myths: The facts about hospice

Posted May 27

"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.

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.

4 Comments

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  • Mary Meadows Aug 22, 8:23 p.m.
    user avatar

    Recently my cousins husband sent home to die. He was given palliative care. He had IV's, food and pain meds. So there is a huge difference between palliative care and hospice. You may want to investigate them if you have any family members that this could pertain to. Unfortunately we didn't have the time and it's a huge difference.

  • Mary Meadows Aug 22, 8:19 p.m.
    user avatar

    This article was NOT clear enough. My siblings and I arranged for hospice when we found out that our mother was dying of pancreatic cancer. We found out so late we had 9 days between diagnosis and death. When we were in hospital they asked her if she wanted to die at home and she said yes. Hospice does provide care. They DONT PROVIDE: IV hydration or any type of food or liquids intravenously. Or pain meds via IV either. My mother lost the ability to communicate, eat or drink in one day. To keep basic water in her we dipped a sponge utensil in water and she reflexively sucked on it. She soon could not keep the liquid pain medication down or even swallow. Us children gave her pain pills via rec+um and prayed she wasn't feeling pain. Were they Angels ? Yes , but I do believe it does/can hasten death as the body needs water to survive. That can be a blessing. But you need to be fully aware they do not do anything that extends life. I speak from first hand experience.

  • Karen Brown Aug 22, 8:02 a.m.
    user avatar

    Don't wait until the person gets really bad off to call in Hospice. They can do so much in the early stages. And if the person gets better they will discharge them and come back in when they are needed again. Really wonderful service.

  • Johnny Byrd Aug 22, 6:53 a.m.
    user avatar

    When combined with early palliative care then shifted to hospice it can mean be a difference between unnecessary suffering and a peace of mind in the end.
    These folks are Angels on earth.