By Aaron Smith
The end of life brings up some sensitive issues that need to be discussed, making effective communication all the more critical in hospice care. Hospice care is the specialized medical care offered to persons living with advanced and life-limiting illnesses approaching the end of life. The care focuses on providing comfort and improving the quality of life for the patient without curative intent. Communication is, therefore, critical to ensure that the care achieves its intended purpose: to make the patient as comfortable as possible during the last days of life.
Hospice care brings together different parties, including the patients, their loved ones, and healthcare professionals, who work together to make the patient’s life easier as their life comes to an end. All parties should be able to communicate effectively and with sensitivity to ensure that all needs are met and important discussions are had.
However, communication in hospice care can be strained because the patients and their families are often highly emotional, which occasionally manifests in stress, aggression, and guilt. These emotions often get in the way of expression, leading to misplaced anger, misunderstandings, and unmet expectations. Ultimately, it compromises the care for the dying.
For the planning to be carried out effectively, the patient needs to voice or indicate their preferences and their orders will be carried out.
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Every Aspect of Hospice Care requires communication
In spite of the barriers, good communication is at the heart of hospice care. Everything, from attending to the patients’ physical needs, administering medication, initiating end-of-life discussions, and advanced care planning calls for a proper conversation.
For example, advanced care planning entails thinking about and talking about the patient’s care preferences in a way that prioritizes their values. It may also include having to decide on the substitute decision-maker, the person to speak for and make decisions on behalf of the patient when they cannot speak for themselves. For the planning to be carried out effectively, the patient needs to voice or indicate their preferences and their orders will be carried out.
Similarly, end-of-life discussions are some of the most important conversations to have because they address a wide array of the dying patients’ and their families’ concerns. These conversations set the expectations for the impending death and how to cope after that. Examples of topics addressed include the fear of dying, resuscitation, and achieving critical end-of-life goals.
Conversations like these promote acceptance and initiate the grieving process, which makes coping with the situation easier. For these reasons, communication at this point needs to be clear and understood.
The Importance Of Communication In Hospice Care
Communication is useful in hospice care for the following reasons:
Communication Is Therapeutic In Hospice Care
When dealing with a serious sickness and an imminent death, the role of a hospice caregiver is to facilitate the peaceful acceptance of the situation for both the patient and his family. Therapeutic communication helps to make the situation less intense and stressful. The communication should be purposeful and solely focused on the patient. It demands sensitivity and an acute awareness of the patients’, their loved ones’, and the caregiver’s feelings regarding the catastrophic illness.
On the caregiver’s part, situations like these call for empathy to showcase an awareness and a validation of the patient’s and the family’s fear. Empathy creates a familiar ground and provides an avenue for a deeper conversation with active listening that prompts the patient and their families to speak their minds and feel heard, relieving their fears and anxiety. Also, as they ask questions and receive answers, they understand the situation at hand better, know what to expect in the coming days, and can decide on the steps to take.
Still, while showing empathy, hospice caregivers have the professional obligation to care for patients within the regulatory requirements and ethical principles.They must be forthright yet supportive, even when relaying bad news.
Communication Takes Away The Stigma
For palliative care professionals, communication is a critical tool for removing the stigma revolving around death and dying.
The subject of death and its inevitability is often a difficult conversation to start and carry on, often because the people do not want to admit to what is approaching. But opening up this conversation and talking about death with the terminally ill and their loved ones goes a long way in helping to relieve their anxiety. It initiates the important conversations that a patient needs to have with their family, and they can start grieving while the loved one is still living.
Communication Provides Closure
Communication helps to put the focus on the people involved and brings closure to them. The patient can communicate their final wishes and have them honored. The role of the caregiver, who has made the tough decisions all along, is enhanced, and they fully embrace the responsibility of caring for the loved ones without the guesswork often seen with families that do not communicate. Even after the death, continued communication helps the loved ones move on easier. There are no feelings of regret or guilt because all there was to say has been said.
Communication Promotes Teamwork
Proper communication is not only essential from an inter-family perspective; it’s also critical to the functioning of the care team. Dying involves medical diagnoses and raises financial, psychological, social, and spiritual concerns for which an interdisciplinary team is needed. The care team includes medical doctors, psychologists, hospice nurses, social workers, and religious leaders who attend to patients and their loved ones.
Intra-team communication is important in hospice care, particularly because patients’ needs and preferences constantly change in their last days of life. Communication helps ensure that new information and care plans are delivered to the respective carers promptly and sensitively.
Proper communication turns the care team into a united front advocating for patient-centered care delivery. The patient’s and the family’s experiences improve significantly when there is a mutual understanding among all the healthcare professionals involved.
Communication Preserves The Patient’s Safety
With hospice care, the patient is the primary focus of attention, and their safety and wellness are prioritized. But, the system of care requires proper and effective communication to run smoothly. Failure to relay critical information, unclear instructions, information misinterpretation, and overlooked patient status changes can have dire consequences. Errors of this nature foster unfortunate events ranging from patient dissatisfaction to severe injury or death.
Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.