A doctor explains hospice toa  patient in Houston TX.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is it time for hospice?

When to learn more: Patients and families should consider hospice in two phases. First, patients and families should learn about hospice before they need hospice. The time to start learning about hospice is when the prognosis is one year or whenever a patient realizes the disease has reached an advanced stage. If you have no personal experience with hospice, consider asking your doctors or nurses, or schedule a visit from one of our nurses to discuss our hospice program.

When to enroll in hospice: This is a personal decision, and the answer will vary from person to person. First, keep in mind that hospice is not necessarily the last stage of medical care. As many as one-half of patients who enroll in hospice may discharge because they are well enough to no longer need it or to pursue more curative therapies.

The healthcare manuals state that a person is eligible for hospice services when the doctor offers a prognosis of six months or less. However, patient wishes should be the primary deciding factor. When a patient's goals for care no longer emphasize tiring treatments with unwanted side effects and the goals begin revolving around having more personal time, better symptom management, comfort, peace, and dignity, then home hospice tends to be the appropriate program.

Patients with advanced illness may want to make a habit of asking about the likelihood that treatments will cure the disease or extend life. In some cases, aggressive treatment when the prognosis is already short can shorten survival. When doctors are estimating low likelihoods, hospice may be the better option - depending on each patient's individual wishes.

How long should a person be in hospice?

Millennium Hospice wants to accept patients whenever they are ready, be that with days of life left or many months. However, it's good to know that the highly positive effects of hospice care accrue over time. Hospice enrollments that are too short will not provide the full benefit to patients. Research shows that hospice care can improve quality of life, lessen the severity of symptoms a patient will ever experience, hold down expenses, improve the emotional health of patients and families, and improve the bereavement experience. Hospice is for people with a prognosis of six months or less, and an enrollment of at least three months is recommended for the best effects.

Who qualifies for hospice?

For qualified patients, traditional Medicare pays 100% for Millennium Hospice services which includes home medical care, supplies, diagnosis-related medications, home medical equipment, and more. To qualify, a patient should have a prognosis of six months or less. Manuals and guidelines have a long list of condition-specific parameters which we will check before enrollment. Patients do not need to be homebound to qualify for Millennium Hospice services.

Will my doctor tell me when to start hospice?

Medical research suggests that doctors and facilities vary widely in their approach to educating patients about hospice. Some doctors take a proactive approach, while others wait for patients to bring it up. It is very important that patients have frank conversations with their doctors about their information wishes. Tell your doctor if and when you want to know your prognosis and how often you want to be updated on prognosis. Some people don't want to know their prognosis, but most do. Patients should not make their doctors guess about their personal preferences. Patients may also want to have an open conversation with doctors about guidelines for deciding when medical treatments are worth the time, discomfort, and side effects.

What is a prognosis?

A prognosis is an estimate of how long a patient has to live should the disease follow its usual course. It is only an estimate. If a doctor gives a patient a prognosis of one year, six months, or less, it does not mean the doctor is giving up. The medical team will continue to help patients pursue their stated goals. Many patients outlive their prognosis, with or without aggressive therapies.

Does hospice shorten life?

No. In fact, a large body of medical research shows that hospice extends life by days to months, compared to people who pursue aggressive therapies or go other routes. Hospice is only indicated when the doctor has deemed curative treatments are no longer medically indicated. Receiving aggressive treatments even when they are not indicated may shorten life rather than extend it. On the other hand, focusing on rest and comfort during this time can strengthen the body and spirit, helping people better take care of themselves.

That being said, hospice is not about shortening or extending a person's life. The life-extending effects of hospice are only a side effect. Hospice is about maximizing quality of life during a very important time of life.