Hospice, Palliative Care Patients at High Risk for COVID-19 

The hospice and palliative care patient populations are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection. Understanding the risk points can be key for providers to minimize the potential risks of COVID-19 on aging and seriously ill patients.

The symptoms of COVID-19 will be considerably more severe for adults age 60 or older who acquire the virus than for members of younger demographics, recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation show. The same is true for patients who already have a chronic or life-limiting illness.

“Most of those at higher risk of developing a serious illness are older (72.4%, or 76.3 million adults),” the Kaiser report indicated. “The remaining 29.2 million adults ages 18–59 are at risk due to an underlying medical condition.”

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Spread of COVID-19 is likely to have a significant impact on patients who are advanced in years or those who are terminally ill, due to both prevalence and severity of infections. As more is learned about the progression of COVID-19 and its potential reach, hospice and palliative care providers need to take every precaution possible to protect the at-risk patient population from infection.

Patients who have diagnoses that are common among hospice patients have the highest level of risk, Kaiser reported. These include cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and other cardiac illnesses. Patients suffering from diabetes are also at higher risk.

Patients with cancer, circulatory/heart conditions, stroke, and respiratory issues comprised nearly 70% percent of hospice enrollees during 2017 the most recent year for which data are available according to the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization. More than half of Medicare beneficiaries who elected hospice in 2018 were female, and 47.5% of patients were age 85 and older.

“About four in 10 adults (41%) ages 18 and older in the [United States] (105.5 million people) have a higher risk of developing serious illness if they are infected with coronavirus,” the Kaiser report said. “Given the paucity of data at this stage of the pandemic, and the high stakes involved for people who do get seriously ill, these estimates confirm the need to take unprecedented efforts to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.”

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