What comes to mind when you hear the word "hospice?"
Research conducted on behalf of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in 2012 has shown that a vast majority of those who have had an experience with hospice care providers, such as a loved one who received care at the end-of-life, have a very positive perception of hospice. But many others, who have not had a direct encounter with hospice, have questions, fears and misconceptions about what hospice is and what services it provides.
In addition, many physicians know little about the benefits of hospice care and are reluctant to talk about it with their patients. Statistics bear out that fact, such as a California survey showing that even though 80% of patients would like to discuss end-of-life care with their doctors, only 7% have actually had that conversation.
Those who work for hospice know that caring for dying patients in hospice is rewarding, beautiful, joyful and transformative work, though it can be difficult and sad, at times. But, the saddest fact of all is that misperceptions about hospice keep people from taking advantage of the benefits it offers at the end-of-life.
However, a brilliant public awareness campaign created by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has set out to shatter the myths and misunderstandings that surround the field of hospice care and promises to revolutionize society's perception of the end-of-life.
The NHPCO's campaign, Moments of Life: Made Possible by Hospice, consists of multiple short video vignettes involving real-life hospice patients and their families. These beautifully filmed and produced videos, while relatively brief, impart a powerful and profound message: hospice care supports and celebrates life.
This brief introductory video, which includes scenes from several of the vignettes, depicts the joy and love that are made possible when hospice assists families facing terminal illness:
Here are five of the messages conveyed by the Moments of Life campaign that shatter the most common misperceptions about hospice care:
1. Hospice patients enjoy life.
One of the most common fears about hospice care is that it is sad and depressing for the patient and loved ones. But the Moments of Life videos show patients laughing, praying, hugging, traveling, picnicking, and even fishing with their loved ones as they make the most of each moment of life available to them. Hospice care, by properly managing symptoms, helps patients stay comfortable and alert so that they can spend quality moments with the ones they love.
2. Hospice patients are filled with hope.
Some of those not familiar with hospice have a perception that choosing hospice care equates with "giving up hope." In fact, physicians often cite this as a reason for not mentioning hospice to their patients. However, the patients depicted in the Moments of Life videos show an entirely different point of view: they find hope in the fact that they are able to stay in their own homes, be surrounded by loved ones, remain active as long as possible, and have their symptoms under control.
3. Hospice patients live longer.
Another common misperception is that patients who opt for hospice care will die sooner than those who continue treatment. However, a NHPCO study has shown that patients who receive hospice care actually live an average of 29 days longer than those with a similar diagnosis who do not choose hospice. The Moments of Life campaign includes the stories of patients who have lived beyond their medical prognosis and have enjoyed quality of life during those days.
4. Hospice provides excellent team-based medical care.
One misconception is that choosing hospice means going without medical treatment. In fact hospice and palliative care patients continue to receive high quality care from an entire team of specialized providers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, aides, therapists, and volunteers. The Moments of Life videos show this top-level care being provided to hospice patients in their homes with skill, compassion, and concern.
5. Hospice is for everyone.
According to Anita Brikman, Senior VP of Strategic Communication at the NHPCO, cultural barriers to hospice care remain an ongoing issue in the U.S. The Moments of Life campaign addresses these barriers by including patients of diverse ethnicity, age, diagnosis, geographic location, and cultural background. The campaign demonstrates that hospice care is not only available to everyone at the end-of-life but is sensitive to the individual needs and concerns of all patients.
In addition to breaking down these common misperceptions about hospice care through video vignettes, the campaign website at MomentsofLife.org contains a wealth of information for patients and providers. There are tools for finding a hospice, determining treatment options for any stage of a serious illness, and a gallery in which to share photos and stories of other meaningful moments that are still possible near the end-of-life. .
Millions of people have viewed the Moments of Life campaign since its inception in May of 2014, which means that the courageous patients and families depicted in the videos have touched all of those lives with the hope, love and joy they have discovered through hospice.
The brilliance of this campaign lies in its emphasis on the small moments of day-to-day life, which for each of us are woven together into the tapestry of a life-well-lived. For, in the end it matters not how many moments of life we receive, only that we cherish each one and experience all the love and joy available to us in that moment.
Learn more about Moments of Life: Made Possible by Hospice at www.MomentsofLife.org.
Tune in to an interview with Anita Brikman about Moments of Life on End-of-Life University by clicking here to register.
About the Author:
(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book "What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying." She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at www.karenwyattmd.com.)