The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), which is the oldest and largest leadership organization working on behalf of hospice and palliative care, is reporting that 34.5 percent of patients died or were discharged within seven days of admission to hospice. In addition, 61.5 percent of patients received care for 29 days or less. What these stats clearly show is that patients and family caregivers aren’t able to take advantage of the full range of services that the hospice team can offer because patients get enrolled in hospice much later than they could be. The median time spent under the care of hospice was less than two weeks.
New research published in the current issue of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society supports this and found that individuals who access hospice care often do so too late to fully benefit from this model of care. Earlier research into hospice and palliative care has already found that early access to these services greatly reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
Study researchers wrote, “In summary, hospice services appear to be suitably targeted to older persons with the greatest needs at the end of life, although the short duration of hospice suggests that additional strategies are needed to better address the high burden of distressing symptoms and disability at the end of life. The hospice philosophy is about making sure that a patient’s death experience reflects their wishes.”
NHPCO is working to educate families and patients on the additional benefits of hospice by launching a public awareness campaign called About Moments designed to educate the patients and their families about taking advantage of the full benefits that hospice can provide, which includes emotional and spiritual support, training for family caregivers, and bereavement services to family for a year following the death of a loved one under hospice care.
According to the About Moments Website, some ways that hospice can help include:
- Allowing the patient to be able to reside in their own home allowing friends and family to visit freely giving them comfort in their own familiar surroundings
- Providing peace to patients and families in terms of allowing them to feel emotional and spiritual comfort
- Providing families with counselors, therapists (including art and music therapy as well as pet therapy), spiritual care advisors, and bereavement professionals who can best support their struggles with death and grieving. These services are part of the hospice benefit, covered by Medicare, Medicaid or most private insurances.
- Providing guidance to the primary caregivers. Most families are not prepared to face the death of a loved one. In addition to caring for patients, hospice also offers services for families and loved ones that provide emotional support and advice to help family members become confident caregivers and adjust to the future with grief support for up to a year.
As a matter of course, the subject of palliative and hospice care comes up between patient and doctor more toward the end stages of a terminal illness, but what NHPCO is hoping to accomplish is to get the conversation started earlier between physician and patient. A patient can begin the dialogue with their doctor by asking whether their diagnosis would result in death in 6 months. If so, this would be the perfect time to explore the advantages of hospice earlier in the diagnosis rather than later.
Enrollment in hospice is not giving up or giving in to the illness or the patient. It is an opportunity to grab hold of the time left in a person’s life and making the last stages of life moments of real living, fully engaging with their loved ones in manners that give them increased quality of life.
Click here to learn more about the mission of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry.