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Pharmacists Are a Great Resource If You Have a Loved One in Hospice Care

Alyssa CosnekAs the U.S. population ages, many families and caregivers are becoming familiar with the benefits and unique aspects of hospice care. In 2014, for example, an estimated 1.7 million patients received services from hospice care providers. 1

Hospice care provides medical, psychological, and spiritual support to patients and their families who are facing a life-limiting illness or injury. Hospice care, which is most often provided in the home, is not meant to cure a disease. Rather, it is designed to ensure that the patient is as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

Hospice care is quite different from what happens in a doctor's office or in a hospital. When a patient enters hospice care, a team of professionals provides the patient with comfort care and helps the patient and family members through the transition (vs. focusing on curing a disease).  This team includes doctors, nurses, home health aides, social workers, clergy, volunteers, and pharmacists.    

Pharmacists who provide hospice care help doctors manage a patient's pain and other symptoms while ensuring that the patient remains as alert as possible. To achieve that goal, pharmacists work with the patient, family members, and other members of the hospice team to create a medication plan that is designed for the patient's specific needs.

As medication experts, pharmacists understand each medication and the correct doses to use to achieve the intended result. Pharmacists know the side effects that may occur and understand how certain drugs may interact with each other. We also provide support for patients and families to understand and use their medications appropriately.

To help patients become comfortable, pharmacists ask many questions about their medical histories and symptoms. If a certain medication is no longer useful or helpful to a patient, the pharmacist may suggest that the patient stop taking that medication.

If you have a loved one who is receiving hospice care and have questions about his or her medications, remember to ask to speak with the pharmacist. Pharmacists are a valuable resource to help keep your family member comfortable during this difficult time.

1.Medicare Payment Advisory Commission Medicare Payment Policy Report to Congress. March 2014.

By Alyssa Cosnek, Pharm.D. Candidate, Class of 2016, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy