While patients are usually referred to hospice from their physician, families can initiate the process by contacting a local hospice program. Certain requirements must be met before any patient can be admitted to receive hospice services:
- The patient must have a terminal illness
- Must be certified by their doctor and the hospice medical director as terminally ill and have a life expectancy of six months or less
- The patient must elect to receive palliative care rather than curative treatment
Although historically patients admitted to hospice primarily had a cancer diagnosis, this is no longer true. Some hospices report as little as 40% of current patients having cancer, while more patients now are being treated with conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer's and general debility.
If these three conditions are met, then the hospice may send a representative out to discuss hospice services with the patient and family to ensure that they are choosing to accept hospice services. It is important that the patient and family understand the concepts of hospice care and that they are making an "informed consent".
Informed consent is defined as giving the patient enough information so that the patient gives his/her consent with enough knowledge about the program including risks, possible complications, benefits and alternatives.