Hospice is a form of palliative care offered by teams of doctors

It’s normal for people facing terminal illnesses and their family members to feel scared and overwhelmed. Setting up hospice care services can be helpful for both patients and their loved ones when it comes to navigating the questions and decisions that come up at the end of one’s life. Read on to find out when and how to look for hospice care for a loved one.

What Is Hospice Care

Hospice is a form of palliative care offered by teams of doctors, nurses, and others who are trained to help patients maintain their comfort and quality of life until they pass. It is available only to patients with terminal diagnoses who have six months or less to live, but it’s a mistake to assume that looking for hospice care is equivalent to giving up. It neither hastens death nor prolongs it.

The Right Time for Hospice Care

Because of hospice’s recognition of mortality, many families are hesitant to take advantage of its services. There are also many misconceptions out there about who is eligible for hospice and when that eligibility period begins. As a general rule, anyone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will cause death within six months if it runs its normal course may be eligible for hospice care.

It’s important to note here that receiving a terminal prognosis and entering hospice doesn’t mean having to give up hope or relinquish all treatments. While extreme measures such as extra rounds of chemotherapy for terminal cancers may be precluded, patients can continue to receive life-sustaining treatments for the duration of their illnesses.

The best time for signing up for hospice isn’t at the very end of someone’s life. It’s as soon as a doctor recommends it as the best option and a patient decides to relinquish extreme measures to fight their illness. Relieving pain and adding a measure of peace to a patient’s final months are both tasks that are best begun earlier rather than later.

Making a Difficult Decision

Many patients who enter hospice care are not fully able to make medical decisions for themselves. While technically, whoever has healthcare power of attorney is responsible for making the final call in situations like this, it’s still important for family members to be on the same page. It can help to sit down with a hospice provider to ask about specific measures and make sure that all of a terminal patient’s loved ones understand the options.

Insurance Coverage for Hospice Care

Thankfully, Medicare will cover hospice if a patient’s primary care physician and a second hospice doctor will both certify that the patient’s life expectancy is less than six months. When patients use Medicare to pay for hospice, though, they must sign statements that indicate that they are choosing hospice as an alternative to other covered treatments for the illness. This may not be an issue for those with private health insurance.

Hospice Care Relieves Pain and Improves Quality of Life

Patients who are facing terminal illnesses deserve to live out the rest of their days in comfort and dignity. That’s just what the hospice program is designed to help them do, but it will only be of help if patients or their loved ones are able to face difficult facts and make a uniquely challenging decision about when to enroll. Remember that the best time to do so is usually as soon as a patient is eligible.