Hospice is a field of health care that focuses on the comprehensive care of patients with terminal illnesses. Hospice need not be a place but rather a service that offers support, resources, and assistance to terminally ill patients and their families at home, a nursing home, or in a facility specifically designated for such service. Hospice is designed to give supportive care to people in the final phase of a terminal illness and focus on comfort and quality of life, rather than cure. The goal is to enable patients to be comfortable and free of pain so that they live each day as fully as possible. Aggressive methods of pain control may be used. In such late stages of diseases, hospice can offer help for patients and families. The use of the term “nothing left to do” is generally to be avoided by healthcare professionals. There may be nothing with a curative potential to do, but there is always something to do that helps with symptoms or improves the quality of life. There are many aspects of a patient’s well-being that can be addressed. Hospice can play a key role in managing physical symptoms of a disease (palliative care) and supporting patients and families emotionally and spiritually.
Hospice care promotes open discussions about “the big picture” with patients and their loved ones. The disease process, prognosis, and realities are often important parts of these discussions. More importantly, the patient’s wishes, values, and beliefs are taken into account and become the cornerstone of the hospice plan of care.