Can Hospice Care Actually Lengthen Life?

The typical debate about hospice care vs. aggressive medical treatment is one of quality vs. quantity.  Hospice care emphasizes symptom management and emotional support, ideally leading patients and families to have a higher quality of life.  Aggressive medical treatment emphasizes curing or stalling an illness, ideally leading patients and families to have more quantity of life.  Research shows, though, that's not always the case.

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This preliminary study examined these ideas and found that hospice was not associated with shorter survival.  In fact, for some illnesses (CHF, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer) hospice enrollment was actually associated with longer survival. Perhaps the conventional wisdom associating hospice with quality while aggressive treatment is associated with quantity is too limited of a view?  There may be cases where hospice care can increase both the quality and quantity of a patients life.

Furthermore, this (false?) dichotomy between quality or quantity at the end of life disregards a little known, and important, third option I will write about at another time: palliative care.


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