The Most Common Myths about Hospice Care

| Posted On Apr 10, 2014 | By:

At Atrius Health, measurably improving the health of our patients is at the heart of our mission. When the unfortunate situation arises and a patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness, our goal shifts to providing the best quality of life for the patient and their family by relieving symptoms, providing emotional and spiritual support and engaging in advance care planning. To that end, VNA Care Hospice joined Atrius Health in 2012, and VNA Hospice Care joined in 2013. Today they are joined together as VNA Hospice Care and they provide:

Hospice is not something people typically like to discuss or take time to research until they or a loved one are diagnosed with a terminal illness. At Atrius Health, we support the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative. On this day, individuals are encouraged to think about their wishes and preferences for end-of-life care and to share those preferences with loved ones and healthcare providers.

There are many myths about what hospice does and doesn’t do, and here are some of the most common myths about hospice:

Myth #1 – Hospice care occurs only in a hospice facility

Hospice is a philosophy of care for patients and their loved ones to help them live as fully as possible while dealing with a terminal illness. Care takes place in a patient’s home, nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, group homes or in a facility dedicated to hospice care.

Myth #2 – Hospice hastens death

The concept of hospice care emerged in this country in response to the unmet needs of dying patients and their families for whom traditional medical care was no longer effective, appropriate or desired.  Hospice allows death to occur naturally with comfort and dignity. No care is provided that hastens death or causes death.

Myth #3 – Hospice care only accepts actively dying patients

This statement is not true. Patients who are not actively dying, and who are still mobile are eligible for hospice. The requirement to obtain hospice services is to have a prognosis of six or less months (but even here there is some latitude). If a person lives beyond a six month prognosis, and is covered by Medicaid or Medicare, a patient may be able to stay on hospice. A review is completed by the patient’s physician and the hospice interdisciplinary team and if they determine that services continue to be appropriate for the patient, then services will continue. If the patient’s condition has stabilized, they may be discharged from hospice and then brought back on to service when needed again.

Myth #4 – Hospice care requires that you have to give up all medical coverage

Individuals who choose hospice are people who have chosen palliative care. This means they no longer desire to treat their disease with medications or surgical intervention.  So in one sense, the patient does give up some options for care concerning terminal illness. However, if a hospice patient develops a condition or illness unrelated to the terminal illness, regular Medicaid and Medicare will pay for treating that disease. Hospitalizations, lab work and other interventions to diagnose and treat these unrelated conditions are all covered.

Myth #5 – Hospice care is only for hopeless cases

It is very important to distinguish between hope for recovery and the other types of hope that hospice services can offer.  In hospice care there is the hope for living free of pain and other debilitating symptoms. There is hope of having control over what happens to the patient as opposed to a feeling of lack of control patients may feel when being cared for in other health care settings.

A repeated phrase often heard from families is, “You gave him/her their identity back and control over their life. Before, he/she was just a diagnosis.”  There is the hope of remaining at home in familiar surroundings where a patient feels more comfortable. There is the hope that discovering one’s mortality will bring a better understanding of what a person’s life has meant.

Myth #6 – Hospice care is only for patients with cancer

There are no rules that limit hospice care to patients with a cancer diagnosis. In fact, hospices have done such a great job in assisting individuals with other life-limiting diseases that patients with a cancer diagnosis constitute only 49% of the hospice population.

Among other diseases that may qualify an individual for hospice include: infectious and parasitic diseases; endocrine, nutritional, metabolic diseases; immunity disorders; diseases of the blood forming organs, the nervous system and sense organs; and illnesses of the circulatory and respiratory systems.

Myth #7 – Hospice care is only for old people

Though hospice does serve primarily an older population (87 percent of hospice patients nationwide are +55), there is no age barrier to receiving hospice care. This myth may have originated by reviewing who pays for hospice. Hospice care is paid for by a reimbursement system designed by Medicaid and Medicare and is also covered by most private insurances.

Myth #8 – Hospice care provides 24 hour nursing and services in the home

This is true if the patient is admitted to a hospice residence. At home hospice nurses are available 24/7 by phone and will make home visits if necessary during the night. Regular day time home nursing visits, home hospice aide visits, social work, chaplain and volunteer visits support the patient and primary caregiver. In some cases the primary caregiver may need or want additional support like having a nurse in the home overnight. In cases like this the caregiver would need to hire a private duty company like Home Staff. Hospice works in concert with private duty services.

VNA Hospice Care offers hospice services in private homes, nursing and assisted living communities or wherever the patient lives. They also offer care in three Hospice Residences:

For more information, contact VNA Hospice Care at 781-569-2888, or visit www.hospicecarema.org.

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