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Hospice: Destigmatizing the Word, Maximizing the Benefits, and the Questions to Ask

Hospice: Destigmatizing the Word, Maximizing the Benefits, and the Questions to Ask

While most of us have heard the term “hospice”, unless you have navigated a terminal illness with a close family member or friend, you might not know much about what it is or what services are offered. Hospice services can either be provided in an individual's personal residence, or at a private facility specializing in care for those nearing the end of life. Often included in a private insurance plan, hospice services can be of huge benefit to sick individuals and those they love. Understanding the benefits of hospice and taking the fear out of the word can enable people to maximize the gifts that hospice care can provide. Families should discuss end-of-life wishes and desires long before a terminal diagnosis is even given. Do you want to stay at home and in your personal surroundings? Do you want to ease the burden on loved ones and receive hospice care in a facility? These items should be discussed when things are good, and then clearly documented in your Nokbox. 

The Goals of Hospice:

When there are no longer curative options available for an ill person, in most cases they are eligible for hospice care. Hospice, and the providers under the umbrella of that care, have several main goals. Most importantly, they work to help ease the pain and discomfort of the terminally ill. Hospice providers, working as a team, can come up with a medication plan for the ill person. Along with medication, however, they assist the terminally ill as a whole. They deal with the anxiety, helplessness, fear, and heartache of knowing you have a terminal illness. This can include everything from counseling to assisting with coordinating spiritual guidance and support. The logistics of end of life support can be complicated, and hospice providers can help assist in coordinating all that needs done. Hospice works to attain the most comfortable end-of-life time period possible. Caregivers in the hospice system work with patients to understand their wishes and concerns, answer the hard questions, and physically be present when needed to help make whatever remaining time as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Benefits for the Patient:

Many people are so scared about the word “hospice”, that they are tentative to ask for the services when they are needed. However, there are so many reasons to take advantage early in the process. Once it is clear an individual needs palliative care and is not going to get a “cure” for their illness, hospice should be considered. Hospice can reduce the need for outside appointments and hospital visits. The benefits usually include a 24-hour on-call nurse, in-home (or facility) medical visits, and necessary durable medical equipment and medicines to ease comfort and reduce costs to patients. Hospice workers understand the emotions that come with the fear of death and dying and can answer the questions and concerns sick people might not want to burden their families with. Additionally, they can help ensure the end-of-life decisions of the patient are met.

Benefits to the Family:

This care also extends to the friends and loved ones of the patient. Hospice workers can help the family navigate medical decisions and care, provide a safe space to talk about the emotions they are experiencing, and at times can even provide follow-up support after the death of the loved one. The process of dying can be unpredictable and scary, and 24-hour on-call support for questions, concerns, and reassurance can be invaluable as loved ones care for the patient.

Questions to Ask:

When an individual is diagnosed with a terminal illness, there are some important questions to start asking. The patient (or a loved one) should ask their medical provider, “is it time to be considering hospice care as part of my overall medical plan?”. It also is important to get with your insurance company to determine what hospice services are offered under your specific plan. Different plans have varying scopes of service coverage, medications that are included, and how much in-person assistance they offer. Specifically if you have Medicare A hospice is covered as a benefit, and you can research directly on Medicare.gov what those benefits will entail. 

By taking advantage of hospice services early in the terminally ill process, both the patient and family members have more time to process and receive much-needed support and attention. Knowing that there are no longer medical options that can “cure” an illness (or an individual making the decision to no longer seek life-saving treatment) is an emotionally heavy realization. Having a system in place to support and guide all those involved can make their remaining time the most comfortable and gentle for those left behind.

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