Hospice Care is underused according to some health care professionals

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 3:26 PM EST
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) - Hospice care is an option for people once they reach the last 6 months of their lives. But many are not taking advantage of this option early enough to make a difference in their comfort and length of life.

Few people want to focus on it...hospice care. Hospice Care is the federal or national Medicare benefit available to people in their final 6 months of life, a benefit Dr. Susan Tyler, the Palliative Care Director at Northern Light AR Gould says people are not taking enough advantage of.

Dr. Tyler says; “The Medicare benefit is significantly underutilized in the United States and lots of patients only get referred in their final few days of life and for many people, earlier entry into hospice means better supports for patients and their families, better quality of life and for some patient populations there’s even a good survival benefit where patients live longer with that type of medical care.”

Hospice care options can include in the home, where professionals come to you, as well as care in a facility, such as assisted living or a nursing home. Dr. Tyler says she thinks the reluctance people feel is connected to fear.

“I think people are scared of dying. And I think that’s a very natural human fear and reaction. Even myself, I deal with people who have serious illness all the time, the thought of death is still scary to me. But we also medicalize a lot of our care and so we treat people and treat people and sometimes we have to have those conversations if this isn’t working well, or maybe it’s not quite what the patient wants, is there a different direction we can take to help them?” she says.

She adds those conversations really can make a difference in how people live out their last few months.

“I had one lady who was a cancer patient of mine and had tried some treatments and they just didn’t agree with her and this was a vivacious spirit a wonderful person. And the type of treatment this lady chose was a little bit unconventional, a little bit different, but this meant a lot to her and so she came to me as a palliative care physician to support her and to continue to provide some direction. Her preferences were not to pursue further treatment with chemotherapy and she actually had some pretty good months where she felt better and was able to make decisions and spend time with family that she might not have had had she been on chemotherapy.” according to Dr. Tyler.

To up the number of people taking advantage of hospice, Dr. Tyler says they are doing some training in December with local providers to help facilitate earlier referrals. Dr. Tyler says there are several hospice options available in the County. You can speak with your primary care physician for more information.

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