Recently, I wrote about a family friend who was admitted to hospice with congestive heart failure. I’m pleased to report; she made an unexpected recovery and was discharged to a skilled nursing facility with a better prognosis.
I have to admit, this scenario struck me as strange. After all, hospice care focuses on caring for a dying patient’s end of life, not curing a disease. I was under the impression people in hospice care didn’t get better.
But as I learned from Vickie Prince with Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice in Wichita, it’s common for a person receiving inpatient hospice care, which typically involves very intensive critical care, to show signs of improvement.
“Hospice is a philosophy of care, not a place,” said Prince. “A person may very well be discharged from inpatient hospice care to outpatient hospice care in a nursing home or at home through home care hospice care.”
In some cases, says Prince, a dying person’s condition may improve enough to stop hospice care altogether. While Medicare pays for hospice care for people who are terminally ill and have 6 months or less to live, it is often difficult for physicians and other providers to accurately predict when those patients might die.
“Our goal in hospice care is to help the dying person and their family members cope with both the physical and emotional challenges of end of life, however long that process takes,” continued Prince.
In a August 2012 study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics, approximately one-third of patients discharged from hospice care died within six months, and nearly 70 percent of those returned to hospice care before dying.