Twenty-five percent Medicare dollars are spent on patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care the final months in hopes of prolonging life.
According to an article in The New Yorker, the U.S. medical system is good at trying to stave off inevitable death, and is not as good at talking to patients about other options such as hospice care, at the end of life.
Many people are unaware that the difference between standard medical care and hospice is not the difference between treating and doing nothing. In ordinary medicine, the goal is to extend life, which often comes with a significant sacrifice in the quality of life as well as expensive treatments that extend life for weeks or months at best in most cases. The goal of hospice care, on the other hand, is to help people with a fatal illness have the fullest possible lives right now, and focuses on pain relief, maintaining mental awareness for as long as possible, or spending time with family.
A study by Aetna showed that when patients were able to combine hospice care with standard medical care, hospital visits dropped and patient satisfaction scores rose. Another study showed that hospice patients were able to interact with others for longer than those in standard medical care. Family members of those in hospice care were also found to have less depression.
(Sources: The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com, August 2, 2010)