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Hospice: An Overlooked Option
Date:12/17/2007

The vast majority of Americans forgo valuable end-of-life care

SUNDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Hospice care helps terminally ill patients prepare for death, treating their symptoms and pain and preparing them -- and their families -- for the end.

The patients maintain their dignity and some semblance of control over their life. Their families receive counseling to help them come to terms with their impending loss.

It's humane. It's caring. It's thoughtful.

Why, then, do so few Americans chose to receive hospice care, even though Medicare covers the expense?

A study published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine found that only one-third of Americans die under the care of hospice, despite hospice being essentially free of charge.

And those who avail themselves of hospice care often aren't getting the full benefit of it, said Dr. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the world's oldest and largest nonprofit membership organization devoted exclusively to promoting access to hospices.

"They hold off the ultimate [decision] until they finally have to face it," Schumacher said. "And when we speak to families, the question we hear over and over again, is, 'Why didn't we come into hospice sooner?' "

There currently are more than 3,500 hospices in the United States, and more are being built every year, Schumacher said. "Approximately 500 new hospice licenses were issued over the past two years," he said.

Hospice care is end-of-life care provided by health professionals and volunteers.

The hospice plan provides medical, psychological and spiritual support, the goal of which is to help people who are dying experience peace, comfort and dignity. Caregivers control pain and other symptoms as much as possible, so a person can remain as alert and comfortable as possible.

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