Hospice Care

Hospice professionals focus on providing the best possible quality of life — hour by hour, minute by minute — to an individual at the end of their life and their loved ones. Hospice care is provided to people who have a limited life expectancy, usually no more than six months. However, care can be extended beyond six months.

Patients may also choose to leave hospice services and return to a different form of medical treatment if they choose. The hospice philosophy is that death is the final stage of life: affirming life while allowing death to take its course.

Hospice care treats the person rather than the disease, working to manage symptoms so that a person’s last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. It is a family-centered service that includes the patient and the family in making decisions.

The Hospice Care Team

Hospice care is provided by an interdisciplinary team that includes:

  • Hospice physician or medical director who may take over the patient’s medical care or may work closely with the patient’s chosen physician
  • A nurse who makes regular visits to assess the patient’s condition, provide pain relief, help deal with other uncomfortable symptoms, and help the family provide care. Hospice nurses are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to manage crises or answer family questions
  • Home health aides who provide practical personal care for the patient
  • A social worker who coordinates community services and financial needs and provides support and emotional counseling for the family
  • Trained volunteers who can provide respite care or other support for the patient and family
  • A chaplain who helps with spiritual needs and communicates with family clergy or church support

Hospice doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and clergy are trained to help with family dynamics and needs, while always putting the needs and desires of the client first.

Paying for Hospice

Hospice care is provided through the Medicare Hospice Benefit or private insurance. Hospice helps arrange payment for patients who are not eligible for Medicare and are uninsured.

How Does Hospice Begin?

Although you will need a physician’s referral for hospice care, you do not need to wait for your doctor to contact hospice. You or your family can get in touch with a hospice program and discuss the services they provide.

If you decide that you want to begin hospice care, the hospice staff will contact your doctor for a referral. Or you can talk to your doctor about hospice care and ask that he or she make a referral for you. For additional information about hospice and palliative care, read more at the National Cancer Institute.


Content medically-reviewed by members of the Fight Colorectal Cancer Medical Advisory Board, February 2014

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