November 2014: National Hospice and Palliative Care Month
McLean Hospice Medical Director, Kevin Baran, MD, MPH, HMDC, Explains the Benefits of Hospice Care.
John was a 77-year-old patient of mine who had been battling congestive heart failure for years. His hospitalizations for trouble breathing were occurring more frequently. When I saw him in my office for a follow-up appointment, he looked exhausted. I spoke with him about his options; when I mentioned hospice care, he and his family were taken aback. They, like many people, were not very familiar with hospice care and assumed it was for imminently dying patients with cancer. As both his primary care physician and a certified hospice medical director, I educated him and his family about the choices and benefits of hospice care.
Many people associate hospice with cancer, which is common. However, non-cancer diagnoses within hospice are just as frequent and include persons with advanced stages of cardiac disease (congestive heart failure, heart disease), lung disease (emphysema, fibrosis, COPD), and neurological diseases (ALS, MS, and Alzheimer’s dementia) to name a few.
Hospice care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurances, for patients with a life expectancy of six months or less. Patients and family coping with serious health conditions are encouraged to discuss personal wishes and choices with the physician to determine together if and when hospice care is appropriate.
Hospice focuses on symptom management, rather than disease cure. Emphasis is placed on comfort and ease of suffering from pain and anxiety, when a patient no longer wishes to go to the hospital or pursue curative therapies. Quality and richness of life are valued and seriously considered, above all. The hospice team is specially trained to focus on the whole person and his/her family, supporting patient and family to live life as fully as possible each day along the final journey.