Today's Medicine

Hospice Care is Quality of Life Care

“I wish I had known about this sooner”

It’s a sentiment I hear far too often from families of hospice patients after their loved ones have died. 

“I wish we would have thought of this sooner.” 
“Why didn't someone tell us about this earlier?”

The majority of people who enter hospice care only receive those services for a few days at the very end of life. The families they leave behind wish the comfort, care and support their loved ones experienced in their final days had been available earlier in their illness. 

Often times, it’s something they could and should have had in place for weeks and months earlier.

The uncomfortable conversation

Studies have shown that when it comes to the “uncomfortable conversation” surrounding entering hospice care, there is a giant disconnect. Families are waiting for the doctor to bring it up while the doctors are waiting for the family to broach the subject. Each is wondering why the other doesn’t see the signs health is on a decline and considering what other support is available.

"The honest truth about this is that doctors are really poor at predicting the end of life. There's not a magical time in the illness where we say, 'Ok, now you have six months left to live.' We can predict when the end is very near, but when it comes to hospice, that’s really the wrong way to think about it."

Dr. Todd Sauer
Methodist Medical Director of Hospice and Palliative Care

Understanding hospice

Hospice is really about meeting people's care needs and support when they have chronic illnesses and they are getting towards the end of life, knowing that we can't predict it very well. It’s intended to support families at home to provide a better quality of life for everyone. Hospice provides the support to answer those tough questions at 3 a.m. when you need someone to call. A specially-trained team treats the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the patients and their families.

A Methodist Hospice team includes a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses, hospice aides, social workers, chaplains, pharmacists, dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, bereavement counselors and volunteers. A hospice patient may receive:

  • Improved quality of life
  • Independence and comfort
  • Improved pain and symptom control
  • Help coping with anxiety, fear or loneliness throughout the end-of-life journey
  • Opportunities to reunite and celebrate with family and friends
  • Control over end-of-life decisions
  • Support from an interdisciplinary team of trained hospice professionals
  • Family-centered approach
  • A more dignified, peaceful death in the comfort and privacy of the place they call home

A shift from cure to comfort

Entering hospice care doesn’t mean a patient is “giving up.” It means they are choosing to focus on the quality of their life. The patient will continue to receive care and medications that make them comfortable, while the family receives the support they need to meet their loved ones’ changing medical needs.

The hospice benefit

A hospice team is there to support the family and caregivers. Families who participate in hospice care for longer periods find that support invaluable. Studies have shown that people that are on hospice service longer have a deeper more fulfilling experience.

Decades ago, Medicare recognized this need. That’s why Medicare covers the cost of hospice care for six months, to support families in the care of their loved one at the end of life.

So when should you talk about hospice?

Sometimes starting the hospice conversation means less about talking and more about listening. When the revolving door of hospital visits begins to increase, you start to hear statements such as, “I just want to be home.” That generally means, they don’t want to be in the hospital anymore and would prefer to be surrounded by the people they love in the place that they love and focus on the time they have left. That’s when we as families and providers need to ask, “How can we meet your needs better?” 

If you have questions about hospice, don’t wait. Start the conversation sooner with your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider about the benefits that are available to you and your family. 

About the Author

Dr. Todd Sauer is the medical director of palliative care and hospice at Methodist Hospital.

He believes communication and education are key to helping patients and families make important decisions about their own medical care.

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