Common myths about hospice care

Diane Gillen, RN (L), and Libby Hagman, RN, BSN (R), two members of our Clinical Outreach team, spend much of their time educating patients and families about hospice.

Our Clinical Outreach Team works to explain hospice care to patients, families, and physicians, and assesses whether patients might benefit from admission to our services.

As Mary Chigos, RN, NP, says, “It’s very empowering to take control of the rest of your life. You plan for birthdays, baptisms, and weddings – we can help you plan and get support for your final months.”

Every day, our Outreach nurses and social workers explain what hospice is (and what it is not). Here, they debunk some of myths they often encounter.

MYTH: Hospice means you’re going to die immediately.
Outreach Team: Hospice care neither hastens death nor prolongs life. Hospice care begins when the patient’s medical goal changes from seeking a cure to managing symptoms and providing comfort. It’s about making sure that your quality of life is enhanced for the time you have left. Hospice is about comfort, compassion, and support for the patient, family, and caregivers.

MYTH: Hospice care is expensive.
Outreach Team:  Fortunately, hospice care is covered by Medicare as well as by most private insurance plans. The majority of our patients use the Medicare hospice benefit, which covers virtually all hospice services – so there is little or no out-of-pocket cost. For patients who do not have Medicare or other insurance, Mission Hospice donors allow us to offer our quality care free of charge for those who need it.

MYTH: If I enter hospice, they will take away my medicines.
Outreach Team:  Our goal is to be sure that patients use only the medicines they need. When a patient enters hospice care, our physicians review their prescriptions (together with the patient and the primary care doctor), and decide which are still beneficial to meet the current goals of care. Hospice care gives families the opportunity to discuss the purpose of the medications their loved one is taking.

MYTH: Hospice means I will have to go away somewhere.
Outreach Team:  We provide hospice care for patients wherever they are: home, board and care homes, nursing homes, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. For those who can no longer stay in their own homes, our social workers help families find a place with the right level of care; our hospice house will be an option for some patients.
In most cases, entering hospice care means patients can remain at home to receive the support they need.

MYTH: If I start hospice, I won’t be able to see my doctor any more.
Outreach Team:  This is definitely not the case! A patient needs the consent of a primary care doctor to begin hospice care. Our medical staff works closely with our patients’ primary care physicians (and specialists as appropriate) to develop individualized care plans. It is important to keep these doctors connected because sometimes patients “graduate” from hospice and will need these doctors to know what their course of care has been.

MYTH: Once you’re on hospice care, you can’t get off.
Outreach Team:  Hospice is a choice – not an obligation. You can always change your mind. And you can start hospice care again later, assuming you are still eligible. Medicare lets you use the benefit multiple times. It is not unusual for a patient to begin hospice services because they are so ill they simply cannot function well any longer. When hospice care helps control symptoms, sometimes time will heal the body. If a patient’s condition improves, they can be discharged from hospice and resume medical treatment, returning to hospice care later as needed.

MYTH: Hospice is scary.
Outreach Team: The thought of dying is frightening to many people, but our patients find that hospice care makes it much less scary. Hospice offers compassion, comfort, and a network of support to help patients, families and caregivers through this period of transition.

Hospice is a real gift to families and loved ones, who are supported throughout the process. We coach family members in caregiving (and offer respite care), offer emotional and practical support, help families navigate medical benefits, and of course offer grief counseling. The earlier you start, the more planning and control you have over your future.