Early admission to hospice can improve quality of life

Hospice care provides people at the end-of-life with symptom and pain management, emotional and spiritual support, and the ability to remain at home if that is their goal. Not only does the hospice team work to make the patient comfortable, they also support caregivers and family members throughout the process as well as after the death.

However, many people never have the opportunity to experience this type of care and support, either because they do not elect hospice or because they only elect hospice in the last days and weeks of life.

Hospice isn’t just for the actively dying. Anyone with a life expectancy of six months or less may be eligible, and patients who exceed the six months can be recertified and continue to receive care as long as they continue to meet eligibility criteria. Patients who choose hospice choose to forgo further curative treatment for their terminal illness and focus on comfort instead.

A report from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization shows that in 2016, the median length of hospice care for Medicare patients was only 24 days. In fact, over 40% of Medicare hospice beneficiaries received less than two weeks of care, and 27% received service for a week or less.

Why does this matter?

The sooner patients are admitted the sooner the care team can begin to control pain and symptoms. Researchers from the School of Medicine at Yale University found patients they were studying only experienced substantial relief of their most distressing symptoms (including nausea, depression, pain, shortness of breath) after hospice began.

Managing symptoms can go a long way in ensuring patients can remain at home. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 71% of Americans prefer to die at home, yet the Centers for Disease Control found that only 33.5% of Medicare patients died at home in 2009.

Not only does hospice improve patient quality of life, it can also improve length of life. A Journal of Pain and Symptom Management study showed hospice patients lived an average of 29 days longer than those who were not receiving hospice services. And a study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported hospice patients were happier, more mobile, in less pain and lived nearly three months longer.

We understand that talking about end-of-life is difficult, but with hospice services patients have a team of people working with them and their families to identify goals, set priorities and help achieve the best quality of life possible.

Who is on the hospice team?

The team is led by a hospice RN case manager and may also include:

  • Hospice medical director
  • Hospice nurse practitioner
  • Hospice nurses
  • Home health aides
  • Medical social worker
  • Music therapist
  • Grief and spiritual counselor
  • Volunteers
  • Physical, occupational or speech therapists

The patient’s primary care physician is also involved and kept informed about the patient’s condition and plan of care.

Where do patients receive care?

Hospice is a service, not a place. Most patients prefer to remain at home and the team will do everything they can to make that happen. Care can be provided in the patient’s home, the home of a family member, nursing home, senior apartments, assisted living facilities or residential hospice facilities.

Who pays for hospice?

The Medicare Hospice Benefit covers the services provided by the hospice team as well as many types of medical equipment and approved medications related to the terminal illness. Most HMO’s and private insurance companies also provide coverage for hospice services.

What if a caregiver needs a break?

Hospice can provide temporary, short-term assistance in caring for a hospice patient allowing caregivers time to recharge. Respite care comes in many forms and can be provided at a variety of locations.

What if symptoms cannot be managed at home?

In rare instances, patients who require skilled care around the clock in order to maintain comfort may be eligible for short-term general inpatient care. For qualifying patients, this type of care can be provided in a Medicare-certified facility that meets the conditions of providing inpatient care.

I’m not ready for hospice but have a chronic or life-limiting illness that is affecting my quality of life. Is care available to help manage my symptoms?

Yes. Palliative care is a type of home health care focused on helping people facing chronic or life-limiting conditions manage symptoms, pain and stress. Eligibility for palliative care is not dependent on life expectancy and can be provided at the same time as curative or life-prolonging treatment.

How can I learn more?

SSM Health at Home can provide informational visits to anyone interested in learning more about how our services can help. We are able to meet with you and your family to discuss how our team of hospice professionals can help identify goals, set priorities and help achieve the best quality of life possible. We can also discuss other services available to improve quality of life for those who do not qualify for or are not ready for hospice.

About SSM Health at Home

SSM Health at Home is a nonprofit organization providing a variety of comprehensive home care services, including home health, hospice, medical equipment, infusion pharmacy and community health. We offer informational visits to anyone interested in learning about how our services can help today or in the future. Please visit ssmhealthathomeWI.com or call 800-924-2273 to schedule an informational visit today.