Hospice care, a team approach to end-of-life care provided by physicians, nursing staff, clergy, social workers, home health aides, and volunteers, is designed to address the unique physical, psychological, mental, and spiritual needs of patients facing the end of life in six months or less. Although the benefits of hospice care are widely acknowledged, unfortunately, many patients who could benefit from hospice care do not receive it because many doctors delay referring patients to hospice.
According to a Harvard Medical School report, “Doctors and hospice experts agree that most terminally ill patients benefit from being in hospice for at least three months before death.” Still, considering hospice is not always easy for patients or doctors.
To ensure that you and your family make the best Long Beach hospice care decision, it is helpful to be alert to the factors that may prevent doctors from recommending hospice care, namely difficulty in predicting patient survival time, ethical dilemmas, and emotional concerns.
Difficulty in Predicting Patient Survival Time
Throughout their extensive medical training, doctors have been taught to use information to predict outcomes. However, the end of life is an outcome that is impossible for any human to predict. The task is made even more difficult because doctors are accustomed to conquering death. As a result, their predictions of survival and the benefits of medical treatment may at times be overly optimistic – leading them to unknowingly delay much-needed hospice care.
Doctors became doctors to preserve and sustain life. Indeed, they took an oath vowing to do just that. Hence, many feel ethically conflicted over the decision to move a patient into hospice, even when it is the best medical decision. Many doctors feel duty-bound to forge ahead with aggressive anti-cancer (or other disease) interventions even when the prognosis is six months or less. They feel that to do otherwise would be to give up.
However, the attempt to avoid an ethical dilemma may create other ethical issues. Continuing with aggressive medical treatment with a patient who is at a point where the focus should be on “caring, not curing” can actually make the patient’s final days traumatic. Instead of being able to face the end of life with peace and dignity, the patient may be subjected to extreme pain and discomfort that could have been avoided.
Many doctors are concerned about the emotional impact of telling a patient that hospice care would be appropriate for him or her. Doctors are concerned that patients may lose hope. However, hospice care provides patients with intensive physical, mental, and spiritual support that can actually improve patient’s well-being and sense of hope. Some patients even begin to experience healing and recovery.
Doctors may also worry that patients may feel abandoned by the doctor who has cared for them for so long. However, the physician will continue to play a central role on the hospice care team.
Making the Long Beach Hospice Care Decision
If you think hospice care may be needed, speak with your loved one’s doctor. Many doctors are more willing to explore the possibility if they are aware that the patient and the family are psychologically willing or able to consider it. Long Beach hospice care providers Alpenglow Hospice, Odyssey Health Care, and Wells House Hospice can help you and the doctor make the best decision.
“Hospice care helps, but often doctors don’t recommend it soon enough,” Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School, September 2005