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Hospice Care

Topic Overview

What is hospice care?

Hospice care provides medical services, emotional support, and spiritual resources for people who are in the last stages of a serious illness, such as cancer or heart failure. Hospice care also helps family members manage the practical details and emotional challenges of caring for a dying loved one.

Why might you choose hospice care?

The goal of hospice treatment is to keep you comfortable and improve your quality of life while you are dying. This philosophy is a shift from usual medical treatments, in which health professionals strive to cure your disease. Hospice services are not intended to speed up or prolong the dying process. They focus instead on relieving pain and other symptoms. Hospice caregivers are concerned with enhancing the quality of remaining life by keeping you as alert and comfortable as possible in a familiar environment with family and friends.

Hospice programs offer services in your own home or in a hospice center. Some hospices also offer services in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or hospitals.

What kind of services are provided?

Hospice services typically include:

  • Basic medical care with a focus on pain and symptom control.
  • Access to a member of your hospice team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Medical supplies and equipment as needed.
  • Counseling and social support to help you and your family with psychological, emotional, and spiritual issues.
  • Guidance with the difficult, but normal, issues of life completion and closure.
  • A break (respite care) for caregivers, family, and others who regularly care for you.
  • Volunteer support, such as preparing meals and running errands.
  • Counseling and support for your loved ones after you die.

Who is involved with providing hospice services?

Most of the time, hospice care is provided in your home. Typically, a family member or loved one will look after you much of the time. And someone from your hospice team will likely visit you for an hour or so one or more times a week. Your loved ones will work with the hospice team to give you the best care possible.

Hospice teams usually include a doctor and nurses, social workers, hospice and palliative medicine specialists, spiritual advisors, nursing assistants, and trained volunteers. It may also include pharmacists, respiratory therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, music therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. If you have an emergency or get scared, you can call the 24-hour hospice number for advice. When needed, a nurse can usually come to your home at any time of the day or night.

Some people worry about losing touch with their regular, trusted doctor. But being on hospice does not mean that you won't see your regular doctor. He or she can work with others on your team to stay involved in your care.

Are you eligible for hospice services?

Eligibility for most hospice programs is based on two criteria:

  • Your condition is considered incurable. This is called a terminal illness.
  • Your doctor has indicated that your life expectancy is 6 months or less if your illness runs its normal course. Typically a form must be signed by your primary doctor as well as the medical director or physician member of a hospice team.1

It can be hard for doctors to know how long a person will live. Some people live longer than expected. If you live longer than 6 months, you can continue on hospice. If your illness gets better, you can stop receiving hospice care.

Hospice care programs do not discriminate. Care is provided regardless of age, sex, religion, diagnosis or type of health problem, ethnic or cultural background, sexual orientation, or ability to pay.

Payment for hospice services is covered through Medicare and most Medicaid programs. Most, but not all, private insurance programs offer a hospice benefit. It is important to research whether your health insurance coverage offers hospice benefits and to find out exactly which services are included. Many hospice programs will research your medical coverage for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about hospice:

Getting treatment:


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