Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

feeling fine

Myths about hospice care: who's eligible — and when

Dr. Gary McCarragher

Dr. Gary McCarragher

Numerous studies show that most Americans want to die at home, surrounded by family and friends. But most patients still die in hospitals or chronic care facilities. This troubling disparity has multiple causes, but as a hospice physician, I believe a major factor is that only about 40 percent of Medicare patients in the United States are receiving hospice care when they die. There are many reasons for this, but an important one is that a lot of people don't fully understand what hospice is and how it works. The hospice movement has grown enormously over the past 40 years. About 1.5 million Americans a year receive hospice care at their homes, in hospitals and in special hospice facilities. In my work, I hear many misconceptions over and over. So I have written a series of three articles for the Tampa Bay Times that I hope will help patients and physicians better understand hospice. Today, I'll start by looking at who is eligible for hospice care.

MISCONCEPTION: Only patients with terminal cancer are eligible for hospice.

TRUTH: Any patient with a terminal condition and a prognosis of less than six months is eligible. In the 1970s, most hospice patients had cancer. Since then, this demographic has changed. In 2009, only 40 percent of hospice patients had cancer. Today, most hospice patients have chronic conditions, such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or Alzheimer's.

MISCONCEPTION: Hospice referral should be reserved for when the patient is about to die.

TRUTH: Many patients, their families and physicians are well aware of the wonderful care provided by hospice, especially when death is imminent. But hospice can also be of great value to both patients and families early in the dying process, months before the patient begins to decline significantly.

Long before death is imminent, hospice can help patients and families with emotional, spiritual, social, financial and legal issues. Furthermore, studies show that grieving families are better able to cope with the loss of a loved one if hospice had been involved for at least two months before the patient's death. For example, family members who have used hospice services are statistically less likely to suffer clinical depression after their loss.

But when a patient comes to hospice only when death is imminent, the opportunity to help families with nonmedical issues is diminished or even lost entirely. That's why we recommend that patients who want hospice care ask their physicians about hospice referral early, as soon as possible after their terminal illness is diagnosed.

MISCONCEPTION: Once admitted to hospice, patients cannot change their minds and seek aggressive treatment of their disease.

TRUTH: Patients may discontinue hospice, for any reason, at any time. They can even leave hospice care and later decide to come back, provided they remain eligible with a terminal illness having a prognosis of six months or less.

NEXT TIME: The rights and privileges of hospice patients

Dr. Gary McCarragher received his medical training at McGill University and the University of Ottawa and was a gastroenterologist in Brooksville for 18 years before going to work for Hospice and Palliative Physician Services, which contracts with HPH Hospice in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter (drgarymac), or at www.garymccarragher.com.

Myths about hospice care: who's eligible — and when 03/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 7:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Wrestling to return to old Tampa armory — but just for one night

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — For the first time in decades, wrestling will return to the old Ft. Homer W. Hesterly Armory with a reunion show scheduled for late September.

    For the first time in decades, wrestling will return to the old Ft. Homer W. Hesterly Armory with a reunion show scheduled for late September.
Now named the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, the armory regularly featured stars such as Dusty Rhodes and Jack Brisco. On September 26, it will host a one-time only reunion night. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times file photo (2016)]
  2. Wanted: New businesses on Safety Harbor's Main Street

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — A green grocery store, a hardware store, restaurants, boutiques and multi-use buildings are all wanted downtown, according to discussion at a community redevelopment workshop held last week. And to bring them to the Main Street district, city commissioners, led by Mayor Joe Ayoub, gave City Manager …

    Whistle Stop Bar & Grill is one of the main stops on Main Street in Safety Harbor. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  3. John Morgan intends to pressure every Florida politician to fund wage initiative

    Blogs

    John Morgan, the publicity-loving personal injury lawyer/entrepreneur who spearheaded the successful medical marijuana initiative, soon plans to start collecting signatures for a 2020 ballot initiative raising Florida minimum wage. He plans to "spend millions of my own money" on the effort, but he also intends to …

  4. Westbound traffic on Courtney Campbell blocked after crash

    Accidents

    Westbound traffic on the Courtney Campbell Causeway is being diverted following a crash early Thursday morning.

  5. Q&A: A business leader and historian jointly delve into Tampa's waterfront

    Business

    TAMPA — As a native of Tampa, Arthur Savage has always had a passion for his hometown's history. And as a third-generation owner and operator of A.R. Savage & Son, a Tampa-based shipping agency, his affinity for his hometown also extends to its local waterways.

    Arthur Savage (left) and Rodney Kite-Powell, co-authors of "Tampa Bay's Waterfront: Its History and Development," stand for a portrait with the bust of James McKay Sr. in downtown Tampa on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. McKay, who passed away in 1876, was a prominent businessman, among other things, in the Tampa area. He was Arthur Savage's great great grandfather. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]