"Dying is more than a set of problems to be solved. The nature of dying is not medical, it is experiential. Dying is fundamentally a personal experience, not a set of medical problems to be solved"- Dr. Ira Byock
Many of the terminally ill or the old and infirm, who are approaching the end of their lives, are in need of hospice care. The focus of hospice care is not to cure the underlying condition but to ensure the patient is relieved of pain and symptoms of the ailment, so as to experience a certain quality of life. In that sense, hospice care is distinct from usual medical care. Hospice care ensures that family and friends are able to spend quality time with the patient during the last days.
Till the 20th century, the terminally ill or the dying spent their last days in their own homes in the company of family and close friends. This trend gradually declined after hospitals became centers of treatment and cure. Hospice care has its roots in England, as a place to enable care, support and comfort to patients, as they prepare themselves for the final journey.
A team of professionals consisting of doctors, nurses, counselors, home health aides, social workers, and bereavement counselors work together in hospice care units to provide support and comfort to the terminally ill and their families. Many of the terminally ill patients suffering cancer, heart disease, and stroke avail the services of hospice care units.
But, is the quality of hospice care good enough? 'No', says a recent report produced by the inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report has pointed at three states, namely California, Illinois and Michigan which were found to be deficient in Medicare hospice.
Allegedly, the hospice programs have been not been scrutinized by state inspectors for nine years, despite being overdue. The report showed that 46 percent of the hospices were found to be lacking in the quality of care.
Expressing the need for regular surveys to understand the nature of improvements required to uplift hospice care, Daniel Levinson, inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department, said "Hospice facilities should be surveyed timely so that problems can be detected and addressed."
Hospice care is all about helping terminal patients pass away in dignity surrounded by the comfort of loved ones. Objectives of hospice care must leave no stone unturned in caring for those in the sunset of their lives. The need of the hour is to conduct periodical surveys to solicit public opinion about improvements in hospice care. Regular inspections will bring to the fore, underlying problems which are impediments to the standards at hospice care units.
Finally, hospice care should not become the last resort of the terminally ill. The experience they provide should be memorable rather than eventful, so that the bereft families find solace that their dear ones lived well and died well.
For information regarding hospice care centers and nature of services, interested readers could access the website of 'The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization' which offers a complete service provider directory.