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NHPCO says 885,000 served in 2002
In 2002, more than 885,000 Americans living with a life-limiting illness were served by the nation’s hospice providers, according to data collected by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in Alexandria, VA. This represents an increase of almost 15% over the estimated 775,000 patients served in 2001. The median length of stay in hospice in 2002 rose to 26 days, up from 20.5 days in 2001; the mean rose from 48 to 51 days. This represents the first increase in length of stay since 1999. Levels had remained constant for the past three years.
Most Americans prefer to die at home
This increase reflects a growing understanding of the importance hospice care has for Americans making choices about their health care at the end of life, the NHPCO said in a statement. The NHPCO’s data demonstrate that when patients are properly informed about the option of hospice care, hospice is the choice they often make.
"Research has consistently shown that almost 80% of Americans — if facing a life-limiting illness — would prefer to remain in their homes, free of pain, surrounded by family and loved ones," said J. Donald Schumacher, PsyD, president and CEO of the NHPCO. "Hospice makes this happen. It’s important that people understand that hospice focuses on living fully up until the end of life."
The NHPCO reports that some of the confusion surrounding eligibility and length of service is being cleared away, but more education is needed regarding physician prognoses. Specifically, physicians and patients still need to understand that as long as the patient meets eligibility requirements, hospice services are available for as long as necessary, even though a patient may outlive his or her physician’s original prognosis.
Another misconception is that hospice serves only aging cancer patients. Hospice services can benefit people at any age and with any life-limiting condition. Hospice patients with cancer diagnoses accounted for approximately 53% of patients in 2001. Care providers are becoming more accomplished at serving patients facing a wide range of serious illnesses.