November Is National Hospice & Palliative Care Month

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, making this the ideal time to raise awareness and learn more about advanced disease care and end-of-life care. Three Oaks Hospice provides hospice and palliative care for patients and families in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois.

The History of Hospice Care

The story of modern hospice and palliative care began in 1963 when Dame Cicely Saunders introduced the concept of specialized care for terminally ill patients during a lecture at Yale University. A few years later, in 1967, Saunders started St. Christopher’s Hospice in the United Kingdom, the first facility dedicated to this type of end-of-life care. The practice of providing personalized patient-centered care that took into account the psychological and emotional health of terminally ill patients grew as a concept and quickly spread across Europe and the United States.

In 1969, the influential book On Death and Dying by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was released, which introduced the concept of hospice care to a wider audience. This book was based on interviews with over 500 terminally ill patients and showed that home-based hospice care was better for dying patients than institutionalized care. It also described the five stages that terminally ill patients typically progressed through and emphasized the idea that patients and their families should be in charge of decisions about end-of-life care. The book became influential in creating new standards for the care of terminally ill patients as well as helping medical professionals and families think about this type of care more holistically.  Originally, hospice care in the U.S. was provided entirely by volunteers, but eventually, this type of care evolved to be a medical specialty of its own. The first legislation to include federal coverage of hospice care was introduced in 1974, but Congress did not enact federal hospice benefits until the 1980s.

In 1982, Congress created a provision to authorize Medicare hospice benefits, which allowed this type of care to become more formalized and resulted in the inclusion of hospice benefits in many medical insurance plans. Over time, hospice and palliative care have become part of a standard continuum of care for patients who face terminal or life-limiting illnesses. By the 1990s, hospice was recognized as a specific medical subspecialty offered at medical schools around the country, and doctors could become officially board certified in hospice and palliative medicine.

Modern Hospice and Palliative Care

Modern hospice and palliative care involve active, personalized care for patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. While the focus of care has been the same since Dame Cicely Saunders, both access to this type of care and the specific assistance available have gotten more sophisticated over the years. Over 1.5 million people use hospice care every year, making it easier for patients to stay in their own homes or a place they call home during the final weeks or months of life.

Hospice care in the 21st century involves everything from ensuring physical comfort to supporting the patient’s mental health and spiritual well-being. A multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors, hospice aides, and volunteers work together with the patient’s primary physician and specialist. Hospice providers also supply durable medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks and wound care supplies that are related to the patient’s prognosis.

The Goals of Hospice Care

The ultimate goal of hospice care is to make the patient as comfortable as possible while living with a terminal diagnosis. Symptom management remains a primary focus, and this may include medication management for pain relief. Hospice team members and volunteers also coordinate with family members and other caregivers to help the patient’s loved ones provide appropriate care and work through the grieving process. Hospice care helps relieve stress for the patient and family members and can prevent caregiver burnout by providing temporary care when the regular caregiver needs a break.

Types of Available Hospice and Palliative Care 

Hospice and palliative care take many forms, including in-home care, care provided in a hospital setting, and care coordinated with an existing medical team. Both hospice and palliative care provide one-on-one assistance, but their goals are slightly different.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is intended for patients who have been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness defined as six months or less to live if the disease were to reach its ordinary course. While many people in hospice are seniors, this type of care isn’t only for elderly patients. Individuals of any age who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease, or pulmonary disease can access hospice care.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with a life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other issues, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual. Palliative care is designed to support patients with a life-limiting condition independent of the decision to continue or discontinue aggressive treatment. Patients who are still getting aggressive treatment for an illness such as cancer may opt for palliative care.

The decision to enter palliative and hospice care are entirely up to the patient and family, so there is no specific required timeline for choosing this type of care. If you’re considering hospice care or want to know more about the options available for your loved one, contact Three Oaks Hospice today.