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Featured FAQ: When is the Right Time to Call Hospice

March 15, 2016

Hospice care is designed for terminally ill patients and their families to make their final months and days as comfortable as possible. Hospice can be called as soon as a patient receives a terminal diagnosis with a life expectancy of six months or less.

march15Deciding if hospice care is needed can be a difficult decision with many factors involved. The best way to get answers is to call hospice as soon as a terminal illness or serious medical issue is diagnosed, and discuss the situation with hospice staff who are trained in dealing with end-of-life issues.

Oftentimes patients or family members are reluctant to embrace the terminal diagnosis and hospice is involved only in the last few weeks or days of a loved one’s life. However, the sooner a hospice team is involved in a patient’s care, the more physical, emotional and spiritual support both the patient and caregivers can receive. If possible, contact hospice before pain management becomes necessary. When a patient has made the decision to end curative medical treatment, they are probably ready for hospice care.

One hospice nurse, a clinical liaison who educates medical staff, families and potential patients about hospice care, commented on a website for family caregivers called “Unfortunately because of fear, lack of understanding and lack of communication, most people have hospice services only a very short period of time, sometimes days. This denies the patient and loved ones the full services that hospice can offer. I suggest you contact a local hospice and have someone come in and have an honest discussion with you and your loved one so you can make an informed decision.”

Bringing in hospice should not be seen as a lack of hope or a guarantee that death is imminent. Some patients on hospice show improvements and are able to go off of hospice care. Some patients even continue to go to work under hospice care. And there is a renewal process to extend hospice services if a patient lives longer than six months.

Getting a referral to hospice

Anyone can refer a patient to hospice, including family, friend, clergy, or doctor. The referral process can begin with a discussion with the patient’s physician who can then make the referral. Or it can begin with a call to a local hospice, and the hospice staff will contact the physician to see if hospice is appropriate.

Most patients are referred by their physician or other health care professional and many hospice services require a physician’s certification that death is likely to occur within six months to begin services. Hospice services are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most types of insurance. Also, costs for medications and equipment needed due to the terminal condition are covered once hospice becomes involved.

End-of-life decisions can be difficult, but hospice care makes the last months, weeks or days as comfortable as possible, allowing time for loved ones to say goodbye. And hospice support continues for surviving family members including bereavement support groups, visits, and phone calls.

For more information, visit, the website for National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Photo Credit: Hospice of the South Shore


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