Hospice is a type of care that focuses on the palliation of a terminally ill patient’s symptoms. It is special because it concentrates on care–not cure; the goal is to provide comfort during the final months and days of life. It addresses the needs of the entire family, not only of the patient.
Hospice care services are provided by a team of health care professionals who create a holistic plan of care that addresses pain and comfort, as well as physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs; it can be provided as long as a patient’s doctor and hospice care team certify that the patient’s condition remains life-limiting (life expectancy is usually 6 months or less). If a patient decides to receive hospice care at home, members of the hospice staff will make regular visits to his home. However, it is also available at hospitals, nursing homes and dedicated hospice facilities. A primary care doctor and the hospice program’s medical director will oversee a patient’s end-of-life care; nurses will address symptom management and concerns about end-of-life issues; home health aides can provide extra support for routine care; spiritual counselors provide spiritual guidance for the whole family; social workers provide counseling and support and will help address insurance and financial concerns; volunteers offer a variety of services depending on the patient’s needs; and bereavement counselors offer support and guidance before and up to one year after the death of a loved one in hospice. The patient, his family and friends are important members of the team, too.
Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and private insurance may pay for hospice care. While each hospice program has its own policy regarding payment for care, services are often offered based on need rather than the ability to pay. Be sure to ask about payment options before choosing a hospice program. To find out about hospice programs in your area: contact your physician, your state or local health department, your state hospice organization, your spiritual leader, or a home health care agency. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization also offers an online provider hospice care service Having advance directives in place helps. These are documents that allow you to state what kind of health care preferences or types of special treatment you do and don’t want in the event that you become unable to communicate.