Anyone who works in the healthcare industry knows we are in a constant influx of change that surrounds us. From billing codes, to new technology, it’s hard for even the savviest informed folks to keep up with all the transition. It’s hard enough to keep up with where our contacts in the industry work from month to month.
There have been recent changes (and some future changes) with will affect how we view end of life care. Hospice is still a relatively new concept to U.S. citizens where we tend to avoid those difficult conversations and think we will live forever. Most healthcare workers, including physicians, lean towards less treatment when it comes to their own health at the end of life (JAMA January 19th, 2016 Vol 315, No 3). The more experiences we have with end-of-life services, the more comfortable we will be having conversations and accept the inevitable. This allows the hospice team to take away our pain and worry, while we can spend those qualities days and hours with loved ones.
Over the summer 2015, Congress pushed more legislation for more end-of-life planning. The idea is that Medicare will reimburse doctors and other health professionals for consulting with patients about end-of-life care. This would be for patients suffering from serious illnesses (Forbes: With Palin ‘Death Panels’ Debunked, Congress Pushes End-Of-Life Planning, July 5, 2015, Bruce Japsen).
In my opinion, this might be the government’s way of making sure these conversations happen when many times they don’t. Many physicians still have the mindset to treat until the very last breath. Having these difficult conversations and billing for them may force physicians and other practitioners to actually sit down and listen to patient’s fears, worries, and wishes for quality of life in their last days. When presenting hospice education to healthcare practitioners who are apprehensive, I often put a question back to them; “How would you want your treatment options to be presented to you if the window of curing is closing and there is only a short time left in living?” It certainly makes people stop and think.
The focus has also shifted in keeping patients comfortable at home as long as possible. There are many funded programs for seniors and patients suffering with serious illnesses to stay independent and stay home. Of course in hospice, we call home where ever the patient is in their transition. This could be home, independent living, assisted living, extended care facility, general inpatient facility, etc.
I think the point is (and it’s very hard to say when you are wearing the shoe of either making healthcare decisions for a loved one or consulting them) to empower, inform and prepare ourselves for lies ahead of us, even if what lies ahead of us is the end of the road. We can see it on our GPS, but many of us want to ignore it.
It’s also never too early to have advanced directives in place.
Jason Hill is a Community Liaison at Tridia Hospice and guest blogger at AlerStallings. You can follow him on LinkedIn.