Medical Overtreatment Raises Awareness on Advance Care Planning

terminalRecent media coverage on the challenges patients and families face with over-treatment of a life-limiting illness brings the issues of hospice and palliative care and advance care planning to public attention.

“It’s important to remember that quality of life and a patient’s personal wishes, beliefs and values must be a factor when making care decisions brought about by a serious or terminal illness,” said J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

“Discussions helping patients and families understand the many benefits of hospice and palliative care must be more common and held long before a family faces a medical crisis,” Schumacher added.

Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning — which includes completing a living will and appointing a healthcare proxy — is somewhat like planning a road trip to an unfamiliar destination. Very few people would expect to get to a destination safely and comfortably without having a well-thought-out map in hand. Yet, it’s estimated that 70 percent of Americans have not completed a living will.

  • A living will charts the course for your healthcare, letting your family and health care providers know what procedures and treatments you would want provided to you–and under what conditions.
  • A healthcare proxy or healthcare power of attorney form, allows you to choose someone you trust to take charge of your healthcare decisions in case you are unable to make those decisions yourself.
  • Advance directives can be changed as an individual’s situation or wishes change.

Hospice and Palliative Care

Many people mistakenly think that hospice is simply a place you go when nothing more can be done to address an illness. That misunderstanding can keep people from accessing the expert care that hospice and palliative care offers.

NHPCO reports that more than a third of hospice patients received care for seven days or less–not enough time to take full advantage of the range of available services.

Hospice and palliative care provide symptom management, pain control, and support to address emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs.

“Hospice brings patients and families compassionate care when a cure isn’t possible. Palliative care provides comfort and support earlier in the course of a serious illness and is not dependent upon prognosis,” explained Schumacher. “Together, hospice and palliative care provide solutions beyond traditional medical care. Most importantly, hospice and palliative care provide dignity at a time when it’s needed most.”

Important Facts

  • Over 80 percent of hospice care takes place in the home.
  • Over 1,300 hospitals have palliative care programs; many of the nation’s 4,800 hospice providers offer palliative care services as well.
  • Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans.
  • Bereavement services are available to family for a year following the death of a loved one.
  • Research has shown that hospice patients lived an average of 29 days longer than similar patients who did not opt for hospice care.

Learn more about advance care planning, and hospice and palliative care from NHPCO’s Caring Connections at or call the HelpLine at 1-800-658-8898.

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