The beginning of life is celebrated. Books and resources are shared among friends and family in preparation for becoming a new parent. So, what happens as one approaches the end of life? Unfortunately, the same care and sharing rarely occurs in those circumstances and many face the process of dying unprepared. Though most people state they would prefer to die at home, this is often not where death occurs. Many Americans spend their last days attached to medical apparatus that keeps the body alive, but it does not allow for communication with family and often requires heavy sedation. Additionally, this level of treatment comes at a high price. As a society, we must become as comfortable in addressing the end of life process as we are with the beginning of life. One way that this can be done more effectively is through increased knowledge and use of hospice care. Hospice care is a viable option that provides health care cost savings, comfort to the patient, and support to the caregivers, however as hospice systems become more commercialized, care must be taken to avoid the pitfalls that are inherent in larger organizations.
Hospice care is a relatively young option in the United States, with the first hospice organization founded in 1971 after gaining acceptance in England in the 1950s (Jensen, 2012). Hospice care is provided to those who are diagnosed with a terminal condition that is expected to culminate in death within six months. Unlike regular health care which focuses on curative procedures, hospice services focus on the comfort of the patient in order to ease the process of dying. These services provide benefits to the patient and the caregivers, as well as showing cost savings.
It is no secret that health care is expensive in America, but the extent of that cost is staggering. Specifically, the “United States spends over 16% of its GDP on health care, 2.5 times more per person than any other industrialized country” (Gruenewald, 2012, p. 18). This type of spending is not surprising since there are such outstanding research and care facilities in this country. It is important to note, though, that of these expenditures, $50 billion of Medicare expenses are paid during the final two months of patients’ lives (CBS News, 2010). While it is important to provide excellent care during the final days of a patient’s life, many of these costs are for medical technology that does not really extend either the quantity or quality of a person’s life.
In contrast to the costs of standard medical care, hospice care provides an alternative that is both cost effective and caring. Unfortunately, it is actually difficult to quantify the cost savings associated with hospice care due to the fact that comparing costs during the last year of life is impacted by the variability in the length of hospice use. A study at Duke University went to extensive lengths to provide a comparison that provided an effective method for accurate...