Hospice Eligibility for Patients With End-Stage COPD and Other Forms of Lung Disease

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Are you a patient, family member, or caregiver? Learn about how VITAS can help patients with end-stage COPD and other forms of lung disease.

Advanced lung disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases, are among the most common conditions leading clinicians to refer a patient to hospice. Understanding what makes a patient with lung disease hospice eligible is integral to providing compassionate care in their preferred care setting.

Types of Chronic Lung Disease That May Warrant Hospice Care

Hospice care focuses on making the most of life, however long that may be, by prioritizing patient comfort and addressing symptoms, including shortness of breath and pain. When curative or restorative treatments are no longer effective, these chronic lung diseases may require hospice care:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic asthma
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • End-stage tuberculosis

Hospice Eligibility Guidelines for COPD and Lung Disease

Major Characteristics

  • Dyspnea at rest and/or with minimal exertion while on oxygen therapy
  • Dyspnea unresponsive or poorly responsive to bronchodilator therapy
  • Progression of chronic pulmonary disease as evidenced by one or more of the following:
  • Frequent use of medical services, including hospitalizations, ED visits and/or physician outpatient visits, due to symptoms of pulmonary disease
  • Frequent episodes of bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Unintentional weight loss of ≥ 10 percent body weight over the preceding six months
  • Progressive inability to independently perform various activities of daily living (ADLs) or an increasing dependency with ADLs, resulting in a progressively lower performance status

Other Clinical Factors for Consideration

  • Cor pulmonale
  • Continuous chronic oxygen therapy
  • Resting tachycardia > 100/minute
  • Steroid-dependent
  • Cyanosis

Supportive Abnormal Laboratory Findings

While these laboratory studies may be helpful to the clinician when considering patient appropriateness for VITAS hospice and palliative care services, they are not required for patient admission.

  • FEV1 ≤ 30 percent predicted post-bronchodilator
  • Serial decreases in FEV1 of at least 40 ml/year over several years
  • PO2 ≤ 55 on room air
  • O2 sat. ≤ 88 percent on room air
  • Persistent hypercarbia (PCO2) ≥ 50 mm HG

VITAS provides these guidelines as a convenient tool. They do not take the place of a physician's professional judgment.

Clinical Eligibility Guidelines

Physicians may use clinical guidelines to identify patients in the final six months of life from lung disease. When it comes to end-of-life care, patients should be both physiologically and psychologically hospice-appropriate.

Hospice care is designed to help patients who:

  • Are dyspneic at rest or with minimal exertion
  • Have progressed to the point where they spend most of their days at home but do not necessarily need to be homebound
  • Have experienced repeated ED visits (one or more each quarter) due to infection or episodes of respiratory failure
  • Have endured a hospitalization (one or more each quarter) and no longer wish to be admitted

VITAS counsels patients and their families about their goals and alternative ways to manage symptoms to prevent unwanted hospitalization and intubation.

VITAS Is a Specialized Hospice Program for Patients with End-Stage COPD and Other Lung Diseases

Dyspnea and the anxiety associated with it are two of the most distressing symptoms that lung disease patients experience. These can often be treated using a combination of clinical therapies, both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic, as well as the individual, 24-hour support that hospice offers. The VITAS plan of care for end-stage lung disease includes:

  • Comprehensive evaluation by all members of the interdisciplinary team
  • Pre-emergency care planning consistent with the patient’s needs and goals
  • Pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions to reduce episodes of respiratory distress
  • 24-hour response upon onset of respiratory distress using a customized emergency protocol
  • Caregiving objectives focused on improving the patient's quality of life

Palliative care is an option to consider if your patient doesn’t currently meet the eligibility guidelines or is not ready for hospice care.

What does hospice treatment for advanced lung disease involve?


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