November is National Hospice & Palliative Care Month


November is National Hospice & Palliative Care Month and hospice programs across the country are reaching out to raise awareness, using the theme: "It's about how you live."

Hospice care enables patients and families to focus on living as fully as possible despite a life-limiting illness. This is done through expert pain management, symptom control, psychosocial support, and spiritual care to patients and their families when a cure is not possible.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, every year in the U.S. nearly 1.4 million people living with a life-limiting illness receive care from hospices.

In early 2015 PBS Frontline premiered their documentary, "Being Mortal," that vividly illustrates the value of having thoughtful conversations of how we each want to be cared for if faced with a serious, potentially life-limiting illness. Niagara Hospice has purchased the DVD and offers it to community groups, businesses and organizations as an educational resource with the goal of encouraging us all to begin the conversation.

The film follows New Yorker writer and Boston surgeon, Atul Gawande, as he studies relationships that exist between health care workers and patients as they near the end of life. The documentary mirrors Atul Gawande's book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, as it explores how patients with terminal diagnoses are often cared for and how many doctors, Gawande included, are not properly trained and prepared to be comfortable confronting sensitive situations, such as chronic illness and nearing death. The documentary explores the concepts behind palliative and hospice care.

Towards the latter part of the film Gawande shifts to end-of-life medicine, promoting hospice as a model of care. Highlighting one of the most important questions that should be asked in these situations, "What are your priorities if your time is limited?" Gawande explains that by centering conversations on this question, health care providers can empower patients to live their lives fully.

Being Mortal shines a light on how patients, families, and doctors all experience the end stages of life, and encourages conversation about how to live life to the fullest extent possible. Gawande recognizes that there is no perfect solution when it comes to end of life care. However, he simply asks us all to commit to creating better options for patients to have a purposeful and good life until the very end.

One of the challenges hospice professionals face in providing quality end-of-life care is lack of knowledge. Hospice care is appropriate for individuals with a prognosis of approximately six months or less to live - if the disease were to run its normal course. Some patients live beyond six months.

Several studies have shown that people with a terminal illness who choose hospice care often live longer and with better quality of life than those who do not take advantage of their hospice benefit. Hospice services are a fully covered Medicare benefit. Most other insurance providers also cover hospice care, so cost of care should never be a barrier to accessing what is known as the gold standard of end of life care.

The time to learn about hospice is before you need it, so you can make an informed decision about how you want to be treated when death is near. Going through the process of establishing a health care proxy is also an important learning experience.

Francis Bacon said: "For knowledge itself is power." You have the power to give, and receive, peace of mind - and prevent tough choices. The best way to be sure your wishes are followed and to provide peace of mind to your loved ones is to begin the conversation and appoint a Health Care Proxy.

More information about hospice, palliative care, and advance care planning is available  at or from NHPCO's website.


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