When should hospice discussion begin?

  1. 0
    note: i originally posted this in the critical care section with some reads and no responses so i posted here. thanks!

    i am a nursing student (pre-licensure bsn) and have been impressed by the critical care nurses i've been around but also disturbed by some of the patients i've seen. some patients are clearly sustained by technology far past what makes sense. it seems that they are subjected to the remainder of their life being in pain and extreme discomfort. often, it seems that the patient is ready to go, but the family is unwilling to let go. i am wondering what experienced nurses believe would help in this regard. my thoughts are that some mechanism should be in place to have an open discussion with the family and/or patient about death and/or hospice care on admittance to the unit. i'm not sure how to do this, but many patients admitted to a ccu or icu are in a position where death (or at least a severely diminished quality of life) is a real possibility. death is not always a terrible alternative, especially when people understand how hospice can help make dying as dignified and comfortable as possible. i am a little biased as i am doing my senior rotation in a hospice setting. looking forward to your thoughts!

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  2. 21 Comments...

  3. 3
    Remember the death panels everyone panicked about? The panic was that doctors would have incentive to discuss end of life decisions. In my opinion, that is when end of life discussions should start- when a pt is healthy, decision making, and able to have a calm discussion with the medical personnel that knows them best.

    If that is not an option, than I think end of life discussions should be started any time someone has a life threatening illness. This is not best done by hospice, but by a palliative team consult that knows all the options, including hospice. The sooner a family or pt is thinking about these decisions, the more sure they can feel the decisions they make. Unfortunately, research shows many doctors are uncomfortable with these discussions, and feel that their pts and families will feel like they are 'giving up'.
    Vtachy1, eagle78, and Hospice Nurse LPN like this.
  4. 0
    I agree with what you posted Erin S, and I am finding this out. I think even in this forum, people do not want to discuss it. Thanks for your input. Looking forward to others.
  5. 0
    bsnanat2, doesn't look like you got much of a response here but
    you raise a very good question and your observation with ccu/icu
    patients is spot on, many would be better served to be sent home
    with their families with hospice care. how to get there?????
    come on hospice nurses/administrators, let's toss this around
  6. 0
    thanks for the reply. no, it seems that people, including nurses, are really not ready or willing to have this discussion. after having spent a lot of time at hospice in my last rotation, the consensus i got was that most medical professionals feel that hope is so paramount that it trumps even the practical. i don't have the experience necessary to agree or disagree with this, but i do know that hope is important. i also know the extreme peace that can come from hospice services. i'll be looking for the proper way to include advocacy for hospice in my practice. again, the real question is 'when does one transition from the "hope" model to the "benefits of hospice" model.'
  7. 7
    I'm not a hospice nurse, just a DON in an assisted living facility as well as a consultant to one of our sister communities; and IMO the best time to have "the talk"about end-of-life issues is ten years before you think you'll need help.

    While that may be an unrealistic goal for most people, it's nothing short of negligence for healthcare professionals to ignore EOL issues and avoid discussing them with our patients just because we're uncomfortable with the topic. We see death and dying every day; why are so many of us so reluctant to bring it up when a patient is obviously declining and s/he says, "I'm done"?

    When a resident says to me, "I'm tired of going to the hospital, I'm tired of hurting, I just want to be in an easier place".......that's when I call everybody in and lay the cards on the table. No one wants to hear that their loved one is preparing to leave this earth, but hospice isn't only for people who are literally on their deathbed. It's for those who value quality of life over quantity, and who want to die in their own way, on their own terms.

    It makes me sad when I see people who could benefit so much from hospice services wait until it's almost too late. In fact, many patients and families miss out on the very best hospice has to offer because they wait until the last week or two of life when symptoms are out of control, pressure ulcers are forming, pain and anxiety are interfering with ADLs, and spiritual distress is overwhelming them.

    I know that popular misconceptions about hospice are hard to dispel; almost everybody who comes to me for advice on the subject tells me "well, I thought hospice meant you couldn't get antibiotics for a UTI or a blood transfusion if you need one" or "that's just for people who have six months or less to live". Although the PCP has to certify the probability that the resident/patient is within 6 months of death, I've had residents in my facility who were on service for TWO YEARS before they finally passed; in the meantime, there was nutritional guidance, personal care, volunteers to spend some time with when they needed companionship, medication and symptom control, wound care, family support, visits from a chaplain, medical equipment that was continually updated as their condition deteriorated.......basically, everything they needed for a comfortable passage into the next dimension.

    What healthcare professionals must understand---and make their own---is the realization that the human mortality rate is 100%. Our bodies wear out, our cells cannot replace themselves quickly enough, and we die.....few people question that. It's HOW we die that seems to be the most difficult part of the discussion to process.

    Why is that? And how do we get past it so we can help our patients face this final transition with self-determination, dignity and grace?

    It's a lot of food for thought.......in the meantime, let's try to keep the dialogue going, shall we?
  8. 6
    One thing they told us in our hospice orientation is that sometimes it's easier for people to hear "the last phase of life" than "end of life" or "terminal" diagnosis. Also, we have so many physicians that send patients to us from the hospital telling them they have X days or weeks left to live. It would be so helpful if, instead, they would say something like "we think this patient is in the last phase of their life and would be better served by a model that promotes quality of life in this phase." Instead of saying does this patient have 6 months or less to live, we ask the doctors whether they would be surprised, if the disease ran it's normal course, if this patient died in the next six months. Sometimes the way you present things can really make a big difference. And definitely tell people that if they get better and no longer qualify for hospice services that they can be discharged (this does happen, we give really good care ) and that there are people who stay on hospice longer, sometimes significantly longer, than 6 months. Also, that they don't have to give up their hope. We never try to take someone's hope away. When people say they hope for a miracle, I tell them that nothing we do will make a miracle impossible. We are just here to add quality to their life and help their families.
  9. 0
    vivalas makes some astute and interesting observations. not so sure
    how hospice can intervene in the process other than providing ongoing
    community education on "the last phase of life" as missit presents. it would
    seem to me that administrators such as vivalas, case managers, nurses and
    social workers that work in the hospital, ltac, alf, and ltc facilities are the direct
    link; but, all too often they get tied up in the business "end of life". also, we live
    in a death denial society that is more interested on how to extend life rather than
    to accept "the realization that the human mortality rate is 100%" which vivalas
    so adeptly points out. maybe the "death panels" as erins mentions or some alternative
    mandate will need to come to fruition before we may have any serious dialogue.
    just my thoughts, please add yours
  10. 1
    Many times these patients end up in the CCU or the ICU a result of chronic disease states that will ultimately end in death...COPD is an excellent example.

    Advanced directives, living wills, and durable power of attorney should be addressed in the PCPs office before (as mentioned by another poster) the patient has begun the process of dying. These things should also be addressed each and every time the patient is in the ED or admitted to the hospital. These discussions should include the adult children and spouse whenever possible.

    There was a good article in The NewYorker in the past year that really addresses the who, what , where, why, and hows for care as the patient sneaks closer and closer to death.
    VivaLasViejas likes this.
  11. 3
    Everyone makes excellent points here. I'm glad to say that my nursing school plans to implement more clinical exposure to hospice through the community health course. The faculty said they could tell a significant difference in those students who spent time at hospice. I agree that many wait far too long to take advantage of what hospice has to offer. It just makes me nuts how the state will ensure that a convicted serial killer dies with dignity in as painless a process as possible, while seniors and cancer patients are often left to linger in needless pain just because the family "isn't ready" and care providers are reluctant to broach the subject. I know this won't solve every case, but it sure would improve patient care overall. Advance directives and living wills should be primary care priorities.

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