When you are considering hospice for a loved one, you might feel frightened, stunned, and unprepared for the near future. Good hospice experiences alleviate these feelings and guide and support you through the difficult times. Hospice teams help patients and their families find comfort and dignity at the end of life.
Hospice unfortunately is a mystery to most people. Social reluctance to deal with death is part of the reason. Ignorance results in less use of hospice. Often families who do use hospices say they regret not joining sooner, because of their positive experience.
Hospice teams include nurses, physicians and physicians’ assistants, therapists, social workers, psychologists, and sometimes clergymen and women. They have experience guiding people through their final days. They also support family members of the patient.
With a background in Europe, modern hospice operations began in the United States in only 1974. Today over 3000 programs exist. In 1982 Medicare started covering hospice care. Originally designed for cancer patients, today hospices serve people with a variety of terminal illnesses. Two-thirds of patients are over 65 years of age. Over 6 million Americans have had hospice care in the past 25 years.
A process, not a place
Hospice is a philosophy, an idea, a program of care. It is not necessarily a place. Much hospice care takes place in the patient’s home and often hospices have headquarters at a clinic or hospital but provide services in the home.
Before hospice care starts, the staff meets with the patient’s physician and the hospice physician to discuss current symptoms, disease history, and life expectancy. There is open and frank discussion of pain, financial and insurance resources, and medicines. A written plan of care is developed.
The end of life is a personal journey for anyone, but bringing in skilled hospice professionals can help considerably.
Hospices focus on the person and his or her comfort, not the disease. That is one difference between a hospice and a more conventional health care facility.
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