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Ann Intern Med. 2007 Mar 20;146(6):443-9.

"I'm not ready for hospice": strategies for timely and effective hospice discussions.

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Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.


Hospice programs offer unique benefits for patients who are near the end of life and their families, and growing evidence indicates that hospice can provide high-quality care. Despite these benefits, many patients do not enroll in hospice, and those who enroll generally do so very late in the course of their illness. Some barriers to hospice referral arise from the requirements of hospice eligibility, which will be difficult to eliminate without major changes to hospice organization and financing. However, the challenges of discussing hospice create other barriers that are more easily remedied. The biggest communication barrier is that physicians are often unsure of how to talk with patients clearly and directly about their poor prognosis and limited treatment options (both requirements of hospice referral) without depriving them of hope. This article describes a structured strategy for discussing hospice, based on techniques of effective communication that physicians use in other "bad news" situations. This strategy can make hospice discussions both more compassionate and more effective.

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