Hospice care: Care 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. Hospice programs generally are home-based, but they sometimes provide services away from home -- in freestanding facilities, in nursing homes, or within hospitals. The philosophy of hospice is to provide support for the patient's emotional, social, and spiritual needs as well as medical symptoms as part of treating the whole person.
Hospice programs generally use a multidisciplinary team approach, including the services of a nurse, doctor, social worker and clergy in providing care. Additional services provided include drugs to control pain and manage other symptoms; physical, occupational, and speech therapy; medical supplies and equipment; medical social services; dietary and other counseling; continuous home care at times of crisis; and bereavement services. Although hospice care does not aim for cure of the terminal illness, it does treat potentially curable conditions such as pneumonia and bladder infections, with brief hospital stays if necessary. Hospice programs also offer respite care workers, people who are usually trained volunteers, who take over the patient's care so that the family or other primary caregivers can leave the house for a few hours. Volunteer care is part of hospice philosophy.
The word "hospice" comes from the Latin "hospitium" meaning guesthouse. It was originally described a place of shelter for weary and sick travelers returning from religious pilgrimages. During the 1960's, Dr. Cicely Saunders began the modern hospice movement by establishing St. Christopher's Hospice near London. St. Christopher's organized a team approach to professional caregiving, and was the first program to use modern pain management techniques to compassionately care for the dying. The first hospice in the United States was established in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974. Today more than 3,000 hospice programs across the country offer comprehensive hospice care. Most insurance plans in the US include hospice as a covered benefit.