Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When It Comes to Hospice, What's In It for Families?

We Know What Patients Get

The multiple advantages of hospice for the family are often lost in our natural concern for the patient.  We know the patient gets to stay at home with expert pain and symptom control as well as spiritual and emotional support.  We know they have volunteers for companionship and the safety and energy conservation provided when a home health aide assists with personal care.  And of course, there are the extras like massage with aromatherapy and music therapy.

“Unit of Care”

But how does the family benefit?  In the very unusual insurance benefit that is hospice, Medicare defines the “unit of care” as the patient and family—and family is loosely defined to include close personal friends and significant others.

Relief from Caregiving

One of the pluses caregivers love most is relief from being the caregiver.  It may be a couple of hours at the bank and beauty shop while a volunteer sits with the patient; it may be a 5-day paid respite stay in a skilled nursing while the caregiver recharges her metaphorical batteries; it may be a home health aide to do the physical care of bathing, dressing, shaving and linen changes several times a week; or it could even be a volunteer to grocery shop, run errands or walk the dog.

Emotional and Spiritual Support

A family at odds about healthcare goals may have a conference facilitated by a hospice social worker.  There is some financial relief as hospice assumes the cost of medications, equipment and supplies related to the terminal illness—even over-the-counter products and disposable briefs.  Then there is the assistance with funeral plans or insurance issues from skilled medical social workers—and sometimes a spiritual care counselor to preside over a memorial service or to pray with family members.

Easing the “Burden”

Those approaching the end of life often express regret over their perception of being a burden.  It is a relief to them to find out that family members can call hospice 24 hours a day to talk to a nurse or arrange a visit if needed, and that their families can have the same spiritual and emotional support that they get.  Patients are also comforted to know their family will have 13 months of support in their bereavement.


And perhaps most important of all, because people who opt for hospice often live longer, patients and families have a few more cherished days or weeks to share this precious finale to life.

And Benefits for the Physician?
  • Physicians get fewer calls at night and on weekends
  • They have extra eyes and ears in the home. 
  • Doctors get to be the heroes by giving patients and families better quality, and often quantity, of life.
  • Physicians have hospice medical directors with whom they can consult on complicated symptoms.  


  1. Thanks for this post! Excited to see you're blogging!

  2. Thanks for your comments @renee_berry! We also have plans to launch an e-newsletter in the coming weeks. If you haven't already signed up to receive it you can visit our website at and follow the links at the top of the page to sign up.