Each month, local health care professionals answer your questions. This month, Dr. Stuart VanderHeide, of Hospice of North Ottawa Community, answers your questions about hospice care.

Q: How do you know when it’s time to call hospice?

VanderHeide: There is no hard and fast answer to this question. Generally speaking, hospice is most beneficial during the last few months of life; when care is centered on comfort, not cure. The focus is comfort and quality of life, not aggressive disease treatment. Evaluations are provided at no charge, so there’s no downside to calling. Then you will have the knowledge to make informed decisions. Most people say, “I wish I had called sooner.” If you are thinking about it, it’s time to call. 

Q: How do I talk to my loved one about hospice?

VanderHeide: You might be surprised to find out that your loved one actually wants to discuss hospice. It is very common for someone with a complex terminal illness to want to minimize the burden on family and friends. Hospice fills that role, and thus becomes a win-win for both patient and family. It is always better to talk to a loved one about how they want to experience the last part of life, rather than avoiding the conversation or making assumptions. Allowing patients to speak about and be involved in their own care choices conveys dignity and respect.

Q: Is hospice covered by insurance?

VanderHeide: Yes. Most insurance, including Medicare, has a hospice benefit. However, hospice providers do not turn away the uninsured.

Q: Where can hospice services be delivered?

VanderHeide: The short answer is “anywhere.” Most hospice providers will go to private residences, care facilities or hospitals. The limitation is more about distance than location. It is best to have a provider within 30 minutes or so, in order to provide timely responses. 

Q: What is included in hospice services?

VanderHeide: Hospice care involves a team of people. The sooner that team gets to know you or your loved one, the better they can align to meet your specific needs. Services typically include medical care from hospice-trained providers, and volunteers who visit to provide short-term respite care, run errands, or simply provide companionship. There are also social workers that can assist with insurance and other service questions, as well as a spiritual advisor appropriate to the patient and family’s needs. Some hospice providers also offer specialized services such as massage, acupuncture and music therapy.

The information contained in this article is for informational and educational purposes only. Its purpose is to promote broad consumer understanding of various health topics and is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your personal physician.

We would like to hear what topics are of interest to you. Please email us at askthedoctor@noch.org.

An individual needing immediate medical help should call 911, or drive to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center. Submission of a question by itself does not create a doctor/patient relationship. Please be advised that submission of medical questions to the email site is not secure and confidential or sensitive information should not be forwarded.

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