Five Reasons Why Hospice Care is the Best Possible Healthcare
The modern hospice movement began in the post-World War II era with the vision of Dr. Cicely Saunders, who recognized a need for compassionate care of the dying that maintained the patient’s comfort, dignity and sense of meaning. Today in the US, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, hospice services are received by nearly 1.5 million Medicare beneficiaries each year at the end of life.
Hospice providers here and around the world fulfill Cicely Saunders’ vision for care of the dying every day, which is celebrated and acknowledged during National Hospice and Palliative Care Month each November. But the type of care provided in hospice is not just beneficial at the end of life, it represents the best possible healthcare available and should be a role model for the entire medical system. Here are five features that make hospice care not only unique but also extraordinary:
One of the foundations of hospice care from the beginning of the movement has been its focus on the patient first. While it seems obvious that all health care should be centered around the patient, the fact is that our medical system is actually disease-centered. Doctors, clinics and even hospitals often specialize in particular diseases and treatment plans are standardized based on the diagnosis with little or no regard for the uniqueness of each patient.
When a patient enrolls in hospice, the actual diagnosis does not determine the plan of care, but instead the patient’s wishes, symptoms, and preferences are all taken into consideration along with the needs of the family and loved ones. Therefore the actual services received by each patient are individualized within the parameters established for quality hospice care.
Comfort is a priority
In accordance with the vision of Cicely Saunders, the primary goal of hospice care is to help the patient be comfortable at the end of life, by prioritizing pain and symptom management. Comfort is often overlooked in other healthcare sectors as patients are left to sit in skimpy gowns on hard exam tables for long waiting periods, ignored or interrupted when they try to discuss symptoms, or subjected to painful or embarrassing tests and procedures without acknowledgement.
Hospice providers are highly skilled in addressing pain and discomfort and will fine-tune the approach to symptom management according to the individual needs of each patient. Some patients prefer to take less medication while others desire maximum relief—hospice staff members are trained to accommodate each person’s wishes and to adjust the plan as needed throughout the course of illness.
Team-based care for the whole person
Unlike other types of healthcare that rely primarily on individual medical providers, hospice care is delivered by a team of practitioners who work together to meet the needs of each patient. The team consists of a doctor, nurse, home health aide, chaplain, social worker, and volunteer who each contribute their expertise to the care of the patient. This team approach results in meeting all of the patient’s needs: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
This whole-person care is a hallmark of hospice and has been offered since Dr. Saunders opened the doors of the first modern hospice in London. This team-based approach to the whole patient ensures that nothing is left out or ignored in the effort to provide comfort, dignity and meaning at the end of life. Certainly other healthcare entities would do well to emulate this superior model for care of the whole person.
Not only does the hospice team consider the needs of the whole patient, but the family and loved ones of patients are included in the services provided as well. Hospice teams offer education and training to family caregivers and also bereavement support and counseling for loved ones, which help them find comfort for themselves throughout the grieving process.
Relationships with family and friends are of utmost importance to many hospice patients and the hospice staff can facilitate the mending of those relationships or the creation of new positive bonding experiences to ease the pain of saying goodbye.
The majority of hospice care is delivered in the place where the patient resides, whether that is the family home or an assisted-living or skilled care facility. One of the unique benefits of bringing hospice care to the home is that patients are surrounded by the people, objects and memories that have given meaning to their lives. They can find greater comfort and peace in this familiar environment than in an impersonal hospital setting.
In addition, hospice providers can learn a great deal about the patient and family by visiting their home and can forge even deeper relationships with them in those surroundings. Cultural and religious preferences are also easier to honor within the comfort of home, which is another example of meeting the needs of the whole patient through the compassionate practice of hospice care.
This month as we honor the legacy of hospice that was once just a dream in the imagination of Dr. Cicely Saunders, there is still a need to educate the public that hospice care is actually the best possible healthcare available. Because of taboos in our society against talking about death there are still misconceptions of hospice care and what it offers to those at the end of life.
But the entire healthcare system could benefit by recognizing that these unique standards of patient care maintained by hospices around the world should be adopted in every specialty for patients of all ages and stages of health. All patients deserve to be treated as whole persons, honored for their unique needs as part of a family and community, while maintaining comfort, dignity and meaning. This is another dream that Cicely Saunders has inspired that will hopefully become a reality one day.
For now, get acquainted with your local hospice and share the benefits of hospice care with everyone you know during National Hospice and Palliative Care Month.