Hospice care in the United States is a type and philosophy of end-of-life care which focuses on the palliation of a terminally ill patient’s symptoms. These symptoms can be physical, emotional, spiritual or social in nature. Since its first establishment, the industry has rapidly expanded. In the United States, it is distinguished by more extensive volunteerism and a greater emphasis on the patient’s psychological needs in coming to terms with dying.
With practices largely defined by the Medicare system, a social insurance program in the United States, and other health insurance providers, hospice care is made available in the United States to patients of any age with any terminal prognosis who are medically certified to have less than six months to live. More than one-third of dying Americans utilize the service. However, common misperceptions regarding the length of time a patient may receive hospice care and the kinds of illnesses covered may result in hospice being underutilized. Although most hospice patients are in treatment for less than thirty days, care may extend beyond six months so long as a patient’s condition continues to merit such medical outlook. Medical and social services are supplied to patients and their families by an interdisciplinary team of professional providers and volunteers who take a patient-directed approach to managing illness. Generally, treatment is not diagnostic or curative, although the patient may choose some treatment options intended to prolong life, such as CPR. Most hospice services are covered by Medicare or other providers, and many hospices can provide access to charitable resources for patients lacking such coverage.
Care may be provided in a patient’s home or in a designated facility, such as a nursing home, hospital unit or freestanding hospice, with level of care and sometimes location based upon frequent evaluation of the patient’s needs. The four primary levels of care provided by hospice are routine home care, continuous care, general inpatient and respite care. Patients undergoing hospice treatment may be discharged for a number of reasons, including improvement of their condition and refusal to cooperate with providers, but may return to hospice care as their circumstances change. Providers are required by Medicare to provide to patients notice of pending discharge, which they may appeal.