Too many Americans entering life’s final phase are missing out on high-quality hospice care, despite Medicare covering the expense. Far too often, patients nearing the end of life are rushed to an emergency room and end up in the ICU where, after aggressive treatment, they eventually die. In reality, many would rather have died in their own home, but the mere mention of hospice crosses a line — for many it means accepting death and giving up hope. Here we expose this myth and six others concerning hospice care:
Myth #1: Hospice is for dying.
Fact: The thought of someone you love entering hospice can be unsettling, but hospice doesn’t mean “the end.” Instead, it means you care enough to want him or her to have the best quality of life possible. And, hospice isn’t just for the patient; it provides emotional and spiritual support to help the entire family get through a very difficult time. Entering hospice care is not about dying; it’s about living life and making the most of each day.
Myth #2: Hospice care is for the last few days of a person’s life.
Fact: People often wait too long before seeking hospice care. To be eligible for hospice, the patient’s life expectancy must be six months or less, as determined by a physician. That means patients with life-limiting illnesses can receive expert, comforting, supportive care for months, rather than days. In the United States, the average length of hospice care is less than 60 days, and 30 percent of those who elect hospice care die within a week. It seems that misinformation about hospice and our general discomfort with talking about the end of life prevents Medicare beneficiaries and their families from taking advantage of this valuable benefit.
Myth #3: My loved-one does not want to talk about end-of-life issues.
Fact: We tend to avoid planning for advanced illness and ultimately death, but given the right opportunity, those living with serious illness often welcome the opportunity to discuss their end-of-life choices. Listening without judgment to the individual’s wishes and concerns can be a gift to them. Discussing available care options relieves the individual from the burden of making those decisions alone.
Myth #4: Hospice care stops all medical treatment.
Fact: The primary objective of hospice care is to keep the patient as comfortable as possible while preserving dignity. Pain is controlled and troublesome symptoms are managed, while aggressive, life-prolonging measures are discontinued. Maintenance-care is provided for existing chronic conditions, such as diabetes or emphysema, as well as disease-specific treatments to help control pain or symptoms of the life-limiting illness.
Myth #5: I can’t afford hospice care.
Fact: Hospice care is a generous Medicare benefit that is often overlooked and misunderstood. Medicare has paid for most hospice care received in the United States since 1983. Other payers include Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most private insurance plans. Typically, no one is turned away from receiving hospice care, and all drugs, medical supplies and equipment needed to manage the life-limiting condition are supplied by hospice.
Myth #6: If I chose hospice care, I have to leave my home and give up my doctor.
Truth: Hospice care is provided wherever the patient calls “home,” such as a private residence, a nursing home, or an assisted living facility. In certain instances, hospice is also provided in special hospital inpatient units and stand-alone facilities. Patients have the choice of staying under the supervision of their own physician while receiving hospice services, or they can choose a hospice physician to oversee their care.
Myth #7: Once you’re enrolled in a hospice program, there’s no turning back.
Truth: Patients can stop hospice treatment at any time they wish and return to a curative-based approach if they feel that will benefit them more. Perhaps the patient wants to try a new treatment, or maybe he or she has begun to show signs of improvement, rather than decline. Hospice professionals may even initiate the discharge of a patient if they see viable signs of recovery. If after a period of recovery the patient wants to return to hospice, Medicare generally pays for the resumed care.
To learn about Covenant Hospice Care and Covenant Care’s family of care services, please visit choosecovenant.org or call 1-855-CARE-365.