Explaining Hospice Care to Your Patients

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Female doctor discussing treatment with a patient
Published:  December 19, 2023

There’s no easy way to tell a patient they are nearing the end of their life. But as their care provider, you have the opportunity to guide patients and their families to resources like hospice care that can make their remaining time more comfortable and fulfilling.

As you begin the delicate conversation about choosing hospice care, make sure you cover the following talking points.

Define hospice care for patients or caregivers.

The first question you get from your patient and their family may be “What is hospice?” The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and CaringInfo define hospice as “a type of health care that focuses on the relief of a terminally ill patient’s distress and symptoms and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs during the final stages of life. Hospice care prioritizes comfort and quality of life by reducing pain and suffering.”

A more succinct way to define hospice is that it focuses on caring for the patient, not curing them.

Explain the four levels of hospice care.

Patients and caregivers may be under the impression that hospice care is a one-size-fits-all scenario. It is important to assure them that as their illness progresses, so will the level of care they receive to meet their clinical needs. What are the four levels of hospice care?

  • Routine home care: Intermittent care that is provided in a home setting, which could be a private residence or facility. An interdisciplinary team determines a plan of care for the patient.
  • Continuous home care: This is provided if a patient has symptoms that require a licensed clinician to be bedside 8-24 hours per day to provide relief.
  • General inpatient care: Care that is provided if the patient has severe pain or symptoms that require a more advanced level of care and treatment that is more effective during a short stay at an acute care hospital, inpatient hospice facility, or long-term care facility.
  • Respite care: When a patient’s caregiver is unable to meet a patient’s care needs due to exhaustion—physical or emotional—or extenuating circumstances, respite care offers them short-term relief.

Be prepared to explain all four levels to your patients and their caregivers.

Share the benefits of hospice care with them.

Deciding to begin hospice care can be a difficult and overwhelming choice for terminal patients and their families. For many, it likely feels like giving up. Emphasize that hospice is an opportunity to make their remaining time more fulfilling, and share its positive aspects:

  • An individualized plan of care providing symptom and pain management
  • The ability for patients to receive care in the comfort of their own home
  • Having all medication and medical equipment/supplies related to the hospice diagnosis provided
  • Bereavement support and resources for caregivers and family members
  • The opportunity to preserve patients’ dignity in their final days

Help them decide when to begin hospice care.

The first step in discussing hospice care and how to get hospice care at home is determining if your patient is eligible. You should explain to your patient and their caregivers that they are eligible if they have a life-limiting illness with a prognosis of six months or less.

One of the most impactful things you can do is to have this conversation as soon as possible. Most people wait until their last weeks—or even days—before starting hospice care. Remind your patients and their families that they can make their remaining time with loved ones more comfortable and meaningful by beginning hospice as soon as they’re eligible.

Encourage them to ask questions.

Even if you are referring your patients to a hospice provider that you know and trust, you should encourage them to ask plenty of questions to make sure they find the best fit. The Hospice Foundation of America suggests asking these questions (along with many others):

  • What are the expectations of the family caregivers, and will you provide training?
  • What is the typical response time if we need to reach you outside of normal business hours?
  • How quickly can you develop a plan of care and share it with the family/caregivers?
  • What services/medication/equipment does hospice not provide?
  • Where and how will inpatient care be provided if needed?
  • Will you stay in communication with my physician and involve them in my care?

Let us be there for you and your patients.

We understand the unique emotional experience providers and their patients share during the end-of-life stage. Our top goal as a hospice provider is to give your patients and their caretakers the highest quality of care we can and to work with you to ensure their needs are fully met.

We want to work with you to make your patient’s final days comfortable and fulfilling. Submit a Request Care form today.

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