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Hospice Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQs about Hospice Services

  1. What is hospice?
  2. What does it mean when it’s time to call hospice?
  3. What’s the first step to getting started with hospice care?
  4. Who is on the hospice team? Who is responsible for care? 
  5. Where do patients receive hospice services?
  6. What are hospice “levels of care?”
  7. If hospice is for the dying, does choosing a hospice mean giving up on my loved one?
  8. When is it time for hospice?
  9. What is the difference between diagnosis and prognosis?
  10. Are there signs that a patient might be ready for hospice services?
  11. What are the qualifications for hospice care?
  12. How often does the hospice nurse or doctor visit?
  13. Can my doctor still be my doctor if I go on hospice?
  14. Will our family still have a say about our mother’s care if she’s on hospice?
  15. What if the hospice patient has special needs?
  16. What if my family member needs special equipment?
  17. Who will talk to me about my loved one once we have hospice? Who will keep us informed?
  18. If I have home health, why do I need hospice care?
  19. My mother is already in a nursing home. Why would she need hospice services there?
  20. Why would I put my child in hospice? Isn’t hospice for the very old?
  21. Will hospice care for my dad 24/7? Will I still need to take care of him?
  22. What is end-of-life care?
  23. What is “comfort care?”
  24. What is palliative care?
  25. What is respite care?
  26. I don’t want my wife to die in our home. Can we have inpatient care instead?
  27. Can you come to talk to my sister about hospice but not mention cancer, death or dying? She doesn’t know.
  28. What if a patient’s health improves while on hospice care?
  29. What is an advance directive?
  30. What happens after my loved one dies?
  31. What about grief and other emotions? Does hospice address those?

FAQs about Paying for Hospice

  1. Who pays for hospice? Is it covered by my insurance? Medicare? Medicaid?
  2. Who pays for hospice room and board?
  3. If I don’t have insurance, can I still receive hospice services?
  4. If Medicare covers my hospice services, will I lose my other Medicare coverage?
  5. Can I have hospice and also keep my HMO?
  6. Is there a fee for a hospice consultation?

FAQs about Hospice and Medical Conditions

  1. What are the signs that hospice is right for heart disease patients?
  2. What are the signs that hospice is right for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients?
  3. Why would an Alzheimer’s patient get hospice care?
  4. What are the signs that hospice is right for ALS patients?
  5. What are the signs that hospice is right for cancer patients?
  6. Can a patient receive chemotherapy and hospice services at the same time?
  7. What are the signs that hospice is right for COPD patients?
  8. What are the signs that hospice is right for Parkinson’s Disease patients?

FAQs about VITAS Healthcare

  1. Who is VITAS Healthcare?
  2. Where is VITAS located?
  3. What services does VITAS provide?
  4. How do VITAS services begin?
  5. What is Palliative Care Associates?
  6. Why should I choose VITAS?

FAQs about Hospice Services

What is hospice?

Hospice is a way to care for people who are terminally ill by focusing on pain relief and symptom management, as well as emotional and spiritual end-of-life issues, instead of trying to cure the disease.

Learn more: VITAS Hospice Services

Frequently asked questions about hospice care

What does it mean when it’s time to call hospice?

Calling hospice means deciding that the patient and family no longer want to pursue curative care. Generally, a physician determines that a patient’s life expectancy is six months or less; most medical treatments and interventions are no longer effective, will not cure the disease and/or will prolong suffering. Calling hospice takes a patient’s care away from disease specialists and surgeons and gives it to an interdisciplinary team trained in comfort care, pain relief, psychosocial support and quality of life at the end of life.

What’s the first step to getting started with hospice care?

Anyone can request a hospice evaluation at no cost. Sometimes the physician makes the referral or provides several options and lets the patient/family decide. The physician must certify to the hospice provider that the patient is eligible and has a prognosis of 6 months or less. When a referral is made, the hospice provider makes an appointment (the same day or on a date convenient for the family) to meet with the patient and family. The admissions nurse evaluates the patient, answers the family’s questions and creates a plan of care that reflects the patient/family’s wishes. If the discussion goes well and the family is ready to decide, they sign admissions paperwork and the hospice team begins to visit.

Who is on the hospice team? Who is responsible for care?

Hospice patients receive services from an “interdisciplinary” team, meaning members come from different disciplines or fields. They may include a physician, registered nurse, hospice aide, social worker, chaplain, bereavement services manager, volunteer and other healthcare professionals.

A full range of services: The VITAS Care Team

Where do patients receive hospice services?

Hospice services are typically brought to wherever the patient calls home—a private residence, assisted living community or nursing home. Patients can also receive hospice services while in the hospital, or in an inpatient hospice unit.

Hospice is not a place: Hospice Care at Home

What are hospice “levels of care?”

Levels of care are specific types of hospice care to address different needs of patients and families. Medicare requires all hospice providers to offer four distinct levels of care. They are:

  • Routine hospice care in the home
  • Shifts of acute symptom management in the home when medically necessary. VITAS calls this Intensive Comfort Care®, it can also be called “continuous care.”
  • Round-the-clock inpatient care when symptoms cannot be managed at home
  • Respite inpatient care for the patient when the family caregiver is away 1−5 days

If hospice is for dying, does choosing a hospice mean giving up on my loved one?

No. When treatment options for a disease have been exhausted or no longer work, hospice provides a way for people to live in comfort, peace and dignity without curative care. Hospice isn’t about giving up, but about improving the quality of the patient’s life by being free of pain, surrounded by family and in the comfort of home.

Focusing on the person, not the disease: Hospice is Not About Giving Up

When is it time for hospice?

Patients should consider hospice services when medical treatments can no longer cure their disease and/or symptom burden outweighs the benefits of treatment. Hospice services can begin when a doctor decides the patient’s life expectancy is six months or less.

When waiting won't help: Quality Hospice Care Takes Time

What is the difference between diagnosis and prognosis?

A diagnosis is when the cause of the illness is identified (e.g., the common cold, pneumonia, lung cancer, etc.). A prognosis is a prediction about how the illness will develop. In the case of people who are terminally ill, the prognosis is often the physician’s estimate of how long the illness will take to run its course before the patient dies.

Are there signs that a patient might be ready for hospice services?

When the burden of treatment outweighs the benefits and/or the patient has had multiple hospitalizations over the last several months, he or she might be ready for hospice. Other indications include:

  • Repeat trips to the emergency department
  • Unrelieved pain
  • Frequent infections
  • Sudden or progressive decline in physical functioning and eating
  • Weight loss/difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath/oxygen dependence

What are the qualifications for hospice care?

A patient is eligible to receive hospice services when their illness is terminal, meaning a physician has determined that they could die within six months if the disease continues as expected. There are medical guidelines that accord with the patient’s disease and help a physician make a hospice referral.

How often does the hospice nurse or doctor visit?

The hospice nurse creates a plan of care with the patient’s and family’s input, designed to meet the patient’s needs. This determines the frequency of visits by the doctor, nurse and others on the hospice team.

Can my doctor still be my doctor if I go on hospice?

Yes. Hospice physicians and team members work with your doctor to ensure your clinical and emotional needs are being met and that your care is being carried out appropriately. Your doctor chooses his or her level of participation in your care.

Will our family still have a say about our mother’s care if she’s on hospice?

Yes. Family input is important and is the driving force behind developing the most effective plan of care for your mother.

Free Download: Hospice Family Discussion Guide

What if the hospice patient has special needs?

The hospice plan of care is individualized to meet each patient’s needs. If special equipment (e.g., wheelchair, lift, trapeze bar, etc.) or therapies (e.g., respiratory therapy, physical therapy, etc.) are needed, the hospice provider offers these as part of its services. Perhaps the need is for a certain religious practice or person, a family or cultural tradition, a language other than English or another unique circumstance. Hospice providers address each patient’s needs.

What if my family member needs special equipment?

Hospice patients may need oxygen, a special lift for over the bed, a bedside commode, incontinence supplies or medications that are related to their terminal disease. Sometimes a hospital bed or Geri chair makes it easier for the family caregiver to attend to the patient at home. Medications, supplies and “durable medical equipment” are part of the hospice team’s plan of care for the patient, and should be provided at no cost by the hospice. Because the family is part of the hospice team, they should be included in discussions of the plan of care and what the hospice patient needs to be comfortable.

Continue Reading: VITAS Home Medical Equipment

Frequently asked questions about hospice care

Who will talk to me about my loved one once we have hospice? Who will keep us informed?

You will always be kept up-to-date on your loved one’s condition. The primary hospice nurse can answer any questions you have, tell you about your loved one’s care and progress, and prepare you for what to expect.

Considering all perspectives: What to Expect in the First Few Days of Hospice

If I have home health, why do I need hospice care?

Hospice offers many services home health care does not, such as prescriptions, medical equipment and visits from an interdisciplinary healthcare staff. Typically, the goal of home healthcare is to help the patient become more independent, and visits decrease in frequency as the patient’s condition improves. The goal of hospice is to keep the patient comfortable as symptoms increase. Hospice services change to fit the needs of the patient.

What's the Difference? Home Health Care or Hospice Care

My mother is already in a nursing home. Why would she need hospice services there?

Nursing homes focus on routine daily care and rehabilitation. Nursing home residents who receive hospice services get additional, customized support determined by their plan of care, which focuses on the physical, emotional and spiritual end-of-life needs of patients and their families.

Why would I put my child in hospice? Isn’t hospice for the very old?

Hospice is for anyone with a terminal disease. From infants to adult through old age, hospice offers quality of life near the end of life as well as support for those who are caring for the patient.

Read more: What is Pediatric Hospice Care?

Will hospice care for my dad 24/7? Will I still need to take care of him?

Yes, you will always be his primary caregiver. Hospice can supplement that care to help share the responsibility of caregiving with regular visits and education from the hospice care team.

Here to help: Hospice is a Full Range of Care

What is end-of-life care?

Care near the end of life focuses on comfort rather than cure. It is care that accepts that the patient is declining and that attempts to reverse the course of their terminal illness would be futile or that side effects would outweigh any benefit. The patient is terminally ill and chooses comfort care, which is also known as palliative care.

Read more: End-of-Life Care Resources

What is “comfort care?"

Comfort care focuses on comfort and relief from symptoms as opposed to curing or treating the disease. Comfort care addresses all the needs of the patient and family—physical, emotional and spiritual.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is supportive care that provides relief from the symptoms, physical stress and mental stress of a serious or life-limiting illness at any stage of the illness, and it can be provided concurrently with curative therapies and treatments. Palliative medicine specialists control pain, manage symptoms, assist with difficult medical decisions about various treatments, coordinate care with other healthcare professionals, and craft a care plan based on the patient’s wishes and preferences. Palliative care can be provided at home or in other settings, including hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. A palliative care team may include the patient and caregiver(s), a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, dietitian, physical or occupational therapist, social worker, chaplain and other healthcare professionals as needed.

What is respite care?

Respite care (pronounced RESS-pit) gives a break, or “respite,” to family members and caregivers who are caring for a loved one receiving hospice services. A daughter who cares for a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, for example, might need a few days off to travel, attend to other family members or take a break from the 24/7 stress of caregiving. Hospice respite care is mandated by the Medicare hospice benefit for any beneficiary whose caregiver needs a break of up to five consecutive days and nights. It places a hospice patient in a facility that provides 24-hour care (e.g., nursing home, skilled nursing facility, hospital or hospice unit) without having to meet the criteria for traditional inpatient care or symptom management.

I don’t want my wife to die in our home. Can she have inpatient care instead?

Your preference for inpatient care should be discussed with the hospice representative who evaluates your wife or with the hospice team if she is already a hospice patient. Every patient and every situation is different.

Can you come to talk to my sister about hospice but not mention cancer, death or dying? She doesn’t know.

Hospice professionals are specially trained to discuss sensitive matters with patients and their loved ones. Usually, a hospice representative will begin the conversation by asking the patient what the doctor has said and what the patient understands about his or her condition. The answer to these questions will determine the words the representative will use.

What if a patient’s health improves while on hospice care?

Patients often improve with hospice services, because the focus of their care shifts to comfort, pain relief, symptom management and quality of life. They still have a terminal illness, but their symptoms are so improved that they no longer qualify for hospice services. A hospice must discharge a patient whose underlying disease or condition is no longer considered terminal. Patients can revoke hospice care for any reason at any time. Patients can also return to hospice at any time, as long as their doctor re-certifies their eligibility.

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive is a legal document that lets you direct in advance the care you will receive at some future time. It is often important near the end of life, when many people are not able to speak for themselves. Completing an advance directive requires that you consider your options and make decisions now, while you are healthy, about what you do and do not want if you are seriously ill and unlikely to get better. Advance directives include different forms and vary by state. They may be called Power of Attorney for Healthcare, Living Will, Five Wishes, Medical Power of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, My Directives, Advance Care Planning, etc.

Continue Reading: Advance Directives: What You Need to Know

What happens after my loved one dies?

Ideally, a member of your hospice team will be at the bedside at the time of death, able to explain the stages of death, make necessary phone calls, prepare the body and support the family in the first few hours. He or she will arrange for the body to be removed or, if the family would like to wait, perhaps until a family member arrives, that can be arranged as well. If a member of the team is not present at the death, he or she will arrive as soon as you call the hospice provider.

What to expect: What Happens When a Hospice Patient Dies at Home?

What about grief and other emotions? Does hospice address those?

Hospices employ bereavement specialists to address all aspects of grief, including anticipatory grief and the grief process after death. Hospices provide bereavement services for the family for up to 13 months after the death.

Grief is normal: Grief and Grieving - VITAS Provides Support After a Death

FAQs about Paying for Hospice

Who pays for hospice? Is it covered by my insurance? Medicare? Medicaid?

Part A of Medicare covers 100% of hospice services. Generally, most hospices also work with Medicaid, the Veterans Administration and private insurance companies.

How payment works: Medicare and the Cost of Hospice

Who pays for hospice room and board?

There is no room-and-board fee for hospice services. Hospice is brought to the patient in the place they call home—an apartment, nursing home, assisted living community or other residential care facility. Even when a patient is placed in a freestanding hospice facility, there is no room and board fee. And while 98 percent of hospice care happens at home*, when hospice patients require round-the-clock inpatient care, that level of care is also provided at no charge to the patient or family. Patients with a terminal illness usually pay nothing for hospice services. Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans Health Administration beneficiaries are fully covered. Most private insurances also cover hospice services. Patients with no insurance can be covered by the charitable arm of their hospice provider. Talk to a local hospice provider for more information.

*NHPCO Facts and Figures: Hospice Care in America. Alexandria, VA: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Rev. ed. April 2018, pg 6, “Level of Care.”

If I don’t have insurance, can I still receive hospice services?

Frequently asked questions about hospice care

Yes. If you don’t have insurance coverage, the hospice admissions staff will work with you to determine financial responsibility and self-payments and to find out if you are eligible for other benefits that could help pay for services.

Covered services: Hospice Patient Eligibility Requirements

If Medicare covers my hospice services, will I lose my other Medicare coverage?

No. If you need hospitalization for any reason unrelated to the terminal disease, traditional Medicare will be used. You can discontinue the Medicare hospice benefit at any time if you want treatment different from what hospice provides. You may also resume the Medicare hospice benefit at any time.

Can I have hospice and also keep my HMO?

Yes. Hospice will provide care related to the primary diagnosis, while the HMO can take care of unrelated healthcare issues.

Is there a fee for a hospice consultation?

Hospices do not charge fees for eligibility consultations.

Get a hospice consultation: Request information online or call 866.273.0802

FAQs about Hospice and Medical Conditions

Although each of the diseases listed below has unique symptoms, hospice is available to any patient with a prognosis of six months or less. While every patient’s case is unique, some symptoms to look for are listed below:

What are the signs that hospice is right for heart disease patients?

  • The patient has advanced congestive heart failure or advanced coronary disease with frequent episodes of angina
  • The patient has an abnormal heart due to disease and suffers from significant symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath or functional decline
  • The patient has received optimal treatment for his/her disease and is not a candidate for further surgical or medical intervention
  • The patient has received optimal treatment for his/her disease and has chosen not to pursue advanced specialized treatment

Continue reading: Hospice Care for Heart Disease Patients

What are the signs that hospice is right for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients?

  • The patient can say only a few words
  • The patient can no longer walk and may be bed-bound
  • The patient is totally dependent on others for eating, dressing and grooming
  • The patient shows signs of severe anxiety
  • The patient has been through several years of decline

Continue reading: Hospice Care for Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Patients

Why would an Alzheimer’s patient get hospice care?

At the end of their lives, Alzheimer’s patients present several challenges to their caregivers. When these patients are in the last stages of life, hospice can relieve some of the burden—physically, emotionally and spiritually—for caregivers as well as help the patient’s end-of-life experience be comfortable and dignified.

What are the signs that hospice is right for ALS patients?

  • Progression* from independent ambulation to wheelchair or bed-bound
  • Progression* from normal to barely intelligible or unintelligible speech
  • Progression* from normal to pureed diet
  • Progression* from independence in most or all activities of daily living (e.g., toileting, feeding, dressing, etc.) to needing major assistance with these tasks
  • Choice to forego feeding tubes for hydration and nutrition and supportive ventilation for breathing

* Progression is defined as the development of severe neurologic disability over a 12-month period.

Continue reading: Hospice Care for ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

What are the signs that hospice is right for cancer patients?

  • The patient is rapidly weakening and the cancer is progressing
  • The treatment intervention is not fully effective
  • The burden of treatment on the patient and family outweighs the benefits

Continue reading: Hospice Care for Cancer Patients

Can a patient receive chemotherapy and hospice services at the same time?

If the chemotherapy were being used to attempt to cure the cancer, hospice would be inappropriate. However, a patient receiving hospice services may receive chemo for reasons of comfort and quality of life; for example, to shrink a tumor that is pressing on an organ.

What are the signs that hospice is right for COPD patients?

  • The patient has made one or more trips to the emergency department every three months due to infection or respiratory failure
  • The patient spends most of his/her days at home
  • The patient has endured repeated hospitalizations (i.e., one or more in three months) and wants to remain out of the hospital
  • The patient no longer wishes to be intubated

Continue reading: Hospice Care for Lung Disease Patients

What are the signs that hospice is right for Parkinson’s Disease patients?

  • Continuous decline in function
  • Coma
  • Persistent vegetative state
  • Severely reduced level of consciousness
  • A significant compromise in breathing and/or swallowing
  • Any of the progressions under “ALS” above

Continue reading: Hospice Care for Neurological Diseases - Stroke, Coma, Parkinson's Disease and Multiple Sclerosis

FAQs about VITAS Healthcare

Who is VITAS Healthcare?

VITAS® (pronounced VEE-tahss) Healthcare is the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care.

7 more facts: VITAS Healthcare Fast Facts

Where is VITAS located?

VITAS cares for patients and families in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The company is headquartered in Miami, Florida.

Find us near you: VITAS Healthcare Locations

What services does VITAS provide?

Frequently asked questions about hospice care

  • An interdisciplinary team of hospice experts (physician, nurse, hospice aide, social worker, chaplain and volunteer)
  • An individualized plan of care
  • Four levels of care, including routine care in the home, shifts of acute symptom management in the home when medically necessary (Intensive Comfort Care®), round-the-clock inpatient care when symptoms can’t be managed at home, respite inpatient care
  • Telecare®—24/7 support for patients and family and team members ready to be dispatched to the patient’s home after hours if needed
  • Prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, medical equipment and supplies
  • Holistic therapies, such as music therapy and pet visits for hospice patients
  • Bereavement specialist for 13 months of grief support after a loved one’s death

Coordinated care: VITAS Hospice Care Services

How do VITAS services begin?

Evaluating the patient is the first step in starting VITAS services. There is no need for a doctor’s referral in order to request an evaluation. A VITAS representative speaks directly with the patient and the family. If they choose to begin hospice services, the doctor’s referral is obtained. The patient, family, physician and VITAS team create a plan of care, which includes everything related to the terminal diagnosis.

Next step: What to Expect the First Few Days of Hospice

What is Palliative Medical Associates?

The word palliative means comfort. Palliative care is comfort care, intended to treat pain and other symptoms causing discomfort. Palliative Medical Associates is a division of VITAS Healthcare that offers consultation and expertise in aggressive symptom management and support to patients and families, whether or not the patient is hospice appropriate.

The difference: Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

Why should I choose VITAS?

At VITAS Healthcare, everyone in the company works from the same belief: patients and families come first. We offer 24-hour support. Our nurses are available at all times, even weekends and holidays. Our patients receive individualized care plans to ensure their needs—physical, emotional, spiritual—and those of their families are always being met.

If you would like to learn more about hospice care or would like to schedule a hospice evaluation please contact our patient care experts.