Please, Thank You, Abracadabra… Hospice

The Value of Hospice Care.

I recently read an article posted in the NY Times about a patient who elected hospice to avoid some medical treatments.  The article was titled “Discovered: The Magic Word.”  I always thought magic words were please, thank you & abracadabra.  The magic word in this case was hospice.

I don’t think there’s a hospice person among us that is unaware that there are individuals that associate the word hospice with death or giving up.  We have, as an industry, worked hard to change that perception and educate the community, healthcare market, friends and family members that it’s not really what we’re about.  In fact, there are hospice patients that are able to live longer, more fulfilling lives as a result of the care they receive in hospice.

This particular article reflects on the physician’s election of hospice for his mother.  He was working towards avoiding unnecessary medical treatments for his mother while she was staying in the hospital.  He wanted what he referred to as, “high-touch, low-tech care.”  The family elected hospice and at the time, felt that there was a good possibility that the patient would be able to be discharged from hospice at some point in the future.

As I read this article I find myself grateful for the hospice agency that assisted the family.  Grateful that such care was available and yet disappointed that our medical system requires such an election in order for families and patients to avoid treatments that they don’t wish to receive.  I consider myself pretty educated on hospice and the program benefits but I believe that the probability that I’d be able to do what Dr. Lee did, if I were in the same situation, as unlikely.

Do you think that a solidly defined Palliative Care program, sponsored and reimbursed by Medicare & Medicaid, would help protect families and patients from the situation that Sarah Lee found herself in?

How do we continue to share the benefits of hospice, ensure that elections are appropriate and at the same time ensure that elsewhere in the healthcare segment people are using the tools available to them?

How many times have you watched a fictional show on TV where a family member is in the hallway of a hospital saying, “Save them at all costs!  No matter what it takes!” This is our culture, it seems. I’m sure some of you have even seen this in the “real world.”  I have, in fact, in my own family.

There are difficult decisions to be made every day by families. Do you think that it’s appropriate for medical professionals (primarily physicians, surgeons and the like) to provide patients with education and information on all of the options available? Is this too overwhelming?