The Role of the Hospice Physician

Neville Sarkari MD, FACP
Corporate Medical Director, Covenant Hospice

Patients and their families often have many questions when they are considering admission to a Hospice program. One question that often comes up is “Do I have to give up my physician?”  The answer is a definite NO!

Covenant Hospice has many wonderful physicians who are experts in the management of problems seen in advanced illness. However, we understand that the relationship between a patient and their physician can be a very personal bond.  We do not want to come between patients and their physicians. Instead, our role is to augment and assist that relationship.  While a patient’s physician knows them best and can remain in control of their overall care, the Hospice Physician can add great value. The Hospice Physician has a specialized knowledge that can augment and improve the care being furnished by the patient’s other doctors. Our Hospice Physicians all have specialized training, and often many years of experience, managing the problems seen in advanced illnesses. This includes treating symptoms like pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and anxiety.  While all physicians can try to treat these symptoms, Hospice Physicians specialize in treating the most severe symptoms.  We often use advanced combinations and doses of medications to relieve suffering that other physicians may not be comfortable treating. Our core belief is that all symptoms are treatable; it’s just a matter of using our advanced training and trying until we succeed.  We never give up.  In addition, Hospice Physicians are expert in guiding patients and families through what to expect at the end-of-life.  This includes the physical dying process, but also many other things. We can help cut through administrative and paperwork hassles with insurers and other bureaucracies. When needed, we can also help families resolve issues amongst themselves, manage the grieving process, and understand what is likely to happen next in an illness.  Often we are called on to educate the patient and their family (or other loved ones) about the likely prognosis.  We can discuss the options for care available, and help to make a plan that is in keeping with the patient’s goals and values.

Although Hospice Physicians can do all this, and more, they remain but one member of the Hospice Interdisciplinary Team.  This team, which also includes Hospice Nurses, Social Workers, Spiritual Counselors/Chaplains, Volunteers, and others, is at the core of the Hospice philosophy of care.  The team meets regularly to make sure that all members are updated about the patient’s status.  Then the team works with the patient, their loved ones, and the patient’s other physicians.

So, remember that when considering whether to use the services of Covenant Hospice, our physicians work with all the other members of the team, as well as the patients other physicians, to ensure that Hospice patients receive the comprehensive, quality care they need and deserve.


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