“I wish we had been referred to hospice sooner.” It’s a sentiment that recurs in patient/family surveys returned to hospices each year. And it is indicative of a trend that concerns hospice providers.

Despite the growth of patients and their families using hospice care, a number of studies have shown that the average length of stay has been declining. In fact, experts in hospice care agree that patients need to be enrolled for at least 60 days to take advantage of the full benefit of a hospice program. But sadly, while hospice care is most effective over a period of months, the median length of service in 2010 was 19.7 days. This number continues to decrease. In 2014, the median length of service was 17.4 days.

Yet, by providing the option of hospice care sooner, you as a physician can continue to make a positive change in the lives of your patients, and help them to maximize their quality of life.

Hospice is a positive option, one that aggressively seeks to provide comfort and freedom from pain and other symptoms. By understanding and accepting that death is part of the life cycle, Hospice of West Alabama (HOWA) wants to assist you in helping patients and their families make life its most meaningful until the end of life.

Pain and symptom management – while our number one goal – is just one of the benefits of early referral. There are many others, which include:

  • The patient can participate in all planning and decisions. Before the stress of a medical crisis, early discussions about hospice can facilitate open communication and provide clients a choice and sense of control. Early referral to hospice allows families time to prepare for the changes they face, giving them time to say goodbye and reducing the chance that the family’s grief will be prolonged and complicated. As a physician, you can help clients make that step by discussing all options for care early in the progression of a terminal illness.
  • Pain and symptoms are addressed sooner and crises can be avoided.
  • Hospitalization can be reduced or eliminated.
  • Advance directives can be prepared to avoid difficult decisions later.
  • Patients benefit from sustained relationships with the hospice team. Because hospice is focused on living, not dying, people who utilize hospice services early in the course of a life-limiting illness have more time to develop personal and professional rapport with supportive staff and volunteers, discuss end-of-life goals and create an optimal plan of care designed around patient and family wishes. During the last weeks or days, there may be a time to control a patient’s pain and stabilize symptoms, but the full benefit of the interdisciplinary approach is significantly “shortened.”
  • Because end-of-life discussions are difficult, a HOWA staff member is available to meet at your office and assist you in providing complete consultation about our services with the patient and their family.

Helping live each of life’s moments to the fullest, with the ones who matter most. That’s what we do. To find out more about HOWA and the services we provide, call (205) 523-0101.