November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month and hospices across the country are reaching out to raise awareness about the highest quality care for all people coping with life-limiting illness.

Hospice is not a place. Hospice is a program of care that provides pain management, symptom control, psychosocial support, and spiritual care to patients, their families, loved ones and caregivers when a cure is not possible.

At Hospice Services of Lake County the families and caregivers of our patients frequently tell our nurses and staff that they never realized all the help and support hospice provides. They are amazed and very, very grateful that our staff was there to help them through possibly the most difficult time in their lives.

Here is a short list of some of the most common misconceptions people have about hospice care and the true facts about each one.

  1. “Do I have to give up my regular doctor to receive hospice services?” No. The patient chooses the doctor that s/he wants to play the significant role in the determination and delivery of the individual’s medical care.
  2. “I understand that a patient must die within six months or they are not eligible for hospice.” This is not true. Eligibility requirements state that a doctor must certify that the patient has six months or less to live if the disease runs its normal course. Many patients outlive the six-month timeline and continue to receive hospice care. National statistics show that on average, hospice patients live about 20 percent longer than patients with a similar diagnosis.
  3. “Hospice is expensive.” Hospice is free; paid for by Medicare and major insurance companies. We do not deny care to anyone because of inability to pay.
  4. “Is it too early for hospice if the patient feels good or doesn’t have pain?” Not necessarily. The patient’s prognosis, along with the desire for comfort and support should justify a hospice referral. Receiving hospice care early helps the patient live a better quality of life than waiting until the patient is suffering and in pain.
  5. “Is hospice only for cancer patients?” No. Hospice care is available for all terminally ill people no matter what the disease. Some of the most common non-cancer diseases are congestive heart failure, dementia and chronic lung disease.
  6. “The Patient and family must be ready for hospice or ready to accept the patient’s impending death.” This is not true. Denial is an accepted coping mechanism.  However, it is important that the patient and family must be aware that the purpose of Hospice is not to cure, but to care.

Hospice is essentially a philosophy of care that accepts death as the final stage of life; just as birth is the beginning. The goal of hospice is to enable patients to spend their last days with dignity and enjoy a quality of life surrounded by their loved ones.