Choosing to enter hospice is a decision between patients, doctors and the caregivers already helping the patient maintain day-to-day activities. The patient’s primary care physician is typically the person who makes the initial hospice care referral. Caregivers may include a spouse, adult children or family friends.
Liver disease often progresses slowly, so determining exactly when to enter hospice can be complicated. A doctor can monitor disease progression to help patients and family members decide whether further treatment or hospice care is more appropriate at a given time. Patients who don’t qualify for hospice services may consider palliative care, which provides many of the same benefits for patients who are still seeking treatment for liver disease.
It’s generally a good idea to start the discussion about hospice care early. A patient with a recent diagnosis of cirrhosis may not be ready for hospice services right away, but the nature of liver disease means that eventually the body will be unable to sustain normal functioning. Advance planning can help the patient and family caregivers decide what criteria merit a hospice referral and at what point the patient may wish to cease pursuing treatment for liver disease.
Patients who choose hospice often experience fewer emergency hospitalizations than liver disease patients who wait to enter hospice. Relying on hospice professionals for care and support also eases the burden on loved ones and improves the patient’s quality of life during this difficult life stage.