You’ve just received the upsetting news that you or your loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. There may be a number of decisions that need to be made, or there may be only one that end-of-life care is appropriate at this point. A physician may determine that a cure isn’t possible, that treatment may do little to prolong life or may in fact diminish quality of life, or the patient may decide to stop treatment intended to cure his or her illness and pursue care that focuses on comfort and quality of life.

The patient, family, and/or physician can make the initial call to hospice to get the process started. Physicians may be reluctant to recommend hospice care, so you, the patient, or your family may have to propose this option to your doctor. Hospice staff will meet with the patient’s personal physician, the patient, and the family to discuss eligibility, appropriate services, needs, and expectations. A plan of care will be developed specifically for the needs of the patient and their family.

What Does the Hospice Admission Process Involve?

Once the hospice provider is contacted, a member of its staff will discuss with the patient’s physician whether hospice care is appropriate at this time. Most hospices have medical staff available to help patients who have no physician. If the patient is deemed eligible for hospice, they’re asked to sign consent and insurance forms. These are similar to the forms patients sign when they enter a hospital. The Medicare form that a patient signs provides information about how the Medicare hospice benefit affects other Medicare coverage (see the ‘Who Pays for Hospice Care’ page on this website).

How Soon Does Hospice Care Begin Following Referral?

Generally, care begins within a day or two of the referral to hospice and is initiated by a visit from the hospice nurse who assesses the patient to make sure they meet hospice guidelines. In urgent situations, service may begin sooner. The hospice nurse will review with the patient and family the services hospice offers and then sign the necessary forms for care to begin.