It is a commonly held misconception by many people that hospice is a crisis service for the last few days of life. Many patients and family members avoid this conversation as long as possible, regardless of their own or their loved one’s circumstances or condition because the perception is that by electing hospice, they are giving up hope and that end of life is imminent. However, the full benefit of hospice services come long before the end of life. We, at Yancey Hospice and Palliative Care almost never hear “We wish we had called hospice later!” We almost always hear, “We wish we had called hospice sooner!”

Hospice services are available to patients and families as soon as their physician determines that there is mostly likely a prognosis of six months or left to live due to a terminal illness. Depending upon the patient’s wishes, there are many reasons to elect this option early on. Some of these reasons include:

 For the Patient

  • The patient is assigned an entire care team including an Doctor, Nurse, CNA, Social Worker and Counseling Services Provider that coordinate all aspects of the patient experience
  • Services can be given at home, or in any post-acute long term care setting.
  • Pain, symptom and medication management resulting in less discomfort and fewer emergency hospitalizations due to pain crises
  • Overall reduction in unnecessary trips to the Doctor, ER and hospitalizations
  • Extra clinical, social and spiritual support result in reduced stress levels and have a positive impact on the patient’s quality of life
  • Support establishing goals of care, coordination of advanced directives and reaching personal milestones before death. Example: “I want to be here for my daughter’s birthday this month”
  • Developing a comfort level and relationship with hospice caregivers
  • Patient can still receive care from their Primary Doctor, the Primary Care Physician can also be the hospice doctor if the patient so chooses and he or she consents

For the Patient and Family

  •  Clinical/Social/Spiritual assistance with an overwhelming situation, we provide many helping hands to navigate this challenging situation
  • Ultimate coordination of care: saving on expense of medication, equipment and supplies related to the terminal prognosis
  • Opportunity for family gathering, coming together, and closure with time to plan
  • Opportunity to ask questions and become more comfortable with the dying process and knowing what to expect
  • Planning assistance and ample time to prepare for funeral and financial matters can reduce stress and conflict

For the Family

  •  Limit feelings of loss or regret by actively participating in the care and comfort of their loved one
  • Reduced stress because the situation is more navigable by knowing what to expect and their loved one is comfortable and wishes and directives are clear
  • Electing hospice early on is an opportunity to develop trust and comfort with hospice caregivers as illness progresses
  • Access to respite and caregiver support in times of stress
  • Developing an earlier relationship with the hospice bereavement coordinator for optimal support after a loved one passes

These are some of the many reasons an early hospice election benefits patients and their families. The most important thing to remember is that the patient has the right to revoke hospice at any time, and for any reason, including to seek aggressive treatment or simply because they choose to. The patient is in control, which is another wonderful reason to elect early, so that their wishes are established and followed at the start of care through the end of life.