The word 'hospice' is derived from the Latin word 'hospitium'. Maybe this is the reason many people have a wrong notion that it is a hospital or a medical center. It refers to a concept of emotional and medical care designed for people affected by a terminal illness. It is actually a philosophy that focuses on improving the quality of life of such patients.
It involves a team-oriented approach, wherein a team of health care providers, social workers, trained volunteers, counselors, and therapists work together and help manage the painful symptoms of the last stage. They are a team of experts who work 24/7 to help improve the quality of life in the final stages. The families and the patients who opt for this kind of care are in no way giving up on life. They are not getting ready to die. It is a service that aims on helping the patient and enhancing their quality of life.
It is a philosophy that aims at palliative care and not curative care. It can be provided anywhere in a hospital, a retirement home, or even in the home of the patient. The concept was first initiated in Great Britain in the 1960s. It was started by Dr. Cicely Saunders, who was a British physician. She organized a team of medical professionals who with the help of modern pain management helped provide compassionate care to dying patients. This philosophy was passed on to United States in the year 1974.
It is not about accepting death, but a viewpoint that shows death is the final stage of life. It helps patients spend their last days with dignity. Medical professionals work together to manage their symptoms and help them die a death, while surrounded by their loved ones. The aim is not to cure the disease or postpone death. It helps treat the person, not the disease. Family member(s) play the role of the main care givers.
It is provided to patients with cancer or any other terminal disease. It should be certified by a doctor that the patient has about 6 months or less to live. The patient and the family members should decide if they no longer need curative treatment and want to opt for palliative care. This is only in case the patient's illness cannot be cured. If the illness escalates or the patient needs to be resuscitated or given life support, no treatment should be sought. This is done only if the patient has signed a 'do not resuscitate' (DNR) order.
Who Provides Care in a Hospice?
Care is provided by a number of medical professionals like:
- Patient's physician
- Registered nurses
- Social workers
- Spiritual counselors like clergy, priests, etc.
- Physical therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Speech pathologists
- Aides who take responsibility of the patient's dressing, bathing, etc.
- Volunteers who give company to patients, help in transportation of the patient, etc.
- Bereavement counselors who provide support and guidance to family after the death of a patient.
Is the Service Free?
One needs to pay for the care they receive. However, it is not as costly as the medical care in hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. It generally involves friends and family giving the main care to the patient and thus, reducing the cost manifold.
Is it Covered by Medicare?
Yes, medicare, medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs, private insurance companies, etc., do cover hospice. You need a doctor and medical director to certify that the patient has less than 6 months to live. The patient needs to sign a declaration that he/she understands the illness and the need for palliative care. The patient will continue to receive medicare benefits for other illnesses.
This philosophy helps the patient live comfortably in their last days and improve their quality of life. People who wish to seek palliative care for a loved one, must speak to their health care provider. Hospice care may help provide the patient with the much-needed comfort and strength, at a point when their quality of life has deteriorated considerably.