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How to find the best hospice care

What to look for when you’re deciding on hospice care

by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Nurse helping senior patient walk

Introduction

Hospice care, or end of life care, is a specific type of medical care for people in the final stages of a terminal illness. Rather than focus on battling the illness, hospice care focuses on making sure the patient is as physically and emotionally comfortable as possible.

Choosing the right hospice care is one of the most important decisions you can make for someone. Talk with your loved one to make sure you understand their needs; if they are not able to communicate, you’ll need to consult with a healthcare professional to discuss available options. The most important priority is the patient’s comfort in the last days of their life.

Nurse washing senior patient's face

What does hospice care do?

Hospice care is as much a philosophy as it is a series of tasks to help people with a life expectancy of 6 months or fewer. Each part of any hospice care routine is designed to ease the patient in their last days and help them and their loved ones come to terms with death. Usually a hospice patient will receive care at home, but facilities like hospitals, nursing homes and special hospice centers can provide this care where needed.

Here are some of the basic services hospice provides:

  • Bathing and dressing assistance

  • Food preparation

  • Laundry and chores

  • General companionship

  • Doctor’s appointments

  • Medication

  • Counseling

Palliative care

Palliative care is a specific kind of hospice care that helps people with terminal illnesses live out their last days comfortably. Unlike hospice care, palliative care can start the moment the patient is diagnosed. Palliative treatment includes pain management, specialized medication, physical therapy and other tasks and services.

Patient talking with doctor

How do I start searching for hospice care?

When it’s time to find hospice care, there are a few ways considerations you should keep in mind. Here’s some general advice for anyone looking for hospice care, regardless of their personal circumstances.

  • Ask for recommendations: The first step you need to take when searching for hospice care is to ask for recommendations. Talk to doctors, nursing homes, family members and anyone else who has knowledge of hospice care. Medical professionals are your best bet when it comes to advice. You can also read reviews on our Home Care Services Buyers Guide.

  • Look for accreditation: Check to see if your hospice care options are accredited by the Community Health Accreditation Partner (CHAP) or the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). Hospices are not required to be accredited, and those that aren’t accredited may still provide quality care. Accreditation simply means a third party has reviewed their services and found them to be acceptable.

  • Medicare certification: A hospice that qualifies for Medicare certification must provide 16 different core services (counseling, doctors appointments, food preparation, etc.) and auxiliary services (physical therapy, homecare). If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, you will need to find a hospice that is Medicare certified.

  • Time in operation: The longer the hospice has been in operation, the more likely it is to have a good reputation. A hospice that has been in operation for more than three years is a good indication of stability.

  • Personal relationship: After meeting with the hospice provider, you’ll have a general idea of the type of people who will be providing care for your loved one. You’ll know if they are the type of people you can handle spending some time with. Take the time to make sure you and your loved one get along with the caregivers before you commit to their services.

Nurse giving elderly patient medicine

What specific needs should I ask about?

In addition to the general care that your hospice will provide, you will want to address any specific needs you or loved one may have. Here’s some of the additional services you should look for.

  • Pain relief: If the patient deals with a lot of pain, make sure your hospice care provider can help with pain relief. This service may require medical professionals to administer pain medicine.

  • Spiritual guidance: If you or your loved have any religious customs you want observed, look for hospice with a chaplain or religious leader who can offer spiritual help.

  • Family help: Find out what the hospice will expect in terms of help of from the family. If you can’t prepare food, keep the house clean, change bedpans, administer medication or other tasks, make sure the hospice care provider will have those covered.

  • Inpatient options: Most hospice care takes place in the patient’s home, but depending on your needs, your loved one may require inpatient care. Inpatient hospice care leases beds in a hospital or nursing facility to move the patient if they need it.

  • Bereavement services: Most hospices will have standard counseling services, but some have specialized bereavement services and support groups for patients and their families. Ask your hospice provider about their bereavement service options to see if any fit your particular needs.

Holding hands in hospital bed

Conclusion

There’s no easy way to find the right hospice care because your search is likely taking place during a painful, emotional time. Your doctor can make at least a few recommendations for you to choose from. Meet with each hospice care provider, and choose the one with the types of services that are best for you and your loved one. The most important thing to remember is their comfort. Put your loved one’s needs first, and you’ll find the right hospice care provider to help them live their last days as comfortably as possible.

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by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

David Chandler, Ph.D., writes for the ConsumerAffairs Research team to help consumers make smart purchasing decisions. David is passionate about creating content that is useful and informative, and he devotes several hours to researching companies, industries and articles for each piece of content he writes to help consumers find what they need.