Helping choose the right hospice care provider is one of the most important decisions you will make for yourself, your loved one and your family. All hospice agencies work within the guidelines of Medicare, which means they provide the same basic services across the board. The differences are in the small details. So how can you be sure that you all have chosen the right program?
Understanding the needs of your loved one, conducting research and speaking with representatives and current patients are great ways to learn about the services and experiences your loved one can expect from a hospice care provider. Read on to ensure your loved one receives the professional, compassionate end-of-life care they deserve.
Understand your loved one’s needs.
Before starting research or speaking with representatives from hospice care agencies, understand what’s most important to your loved one. Do they want to stay home to receive hospice care? How do they want to spend the last weeks or months of their lives? This is an expression of their autonomy and enables your loved one to exercise control over the situation.
It’s also possible that you will need to have discussions about what hospice care isn’t. A number of misconceptions surrounding hospice care exist, including the idea that hospice is giving up and hospice care is for people who only have days to live. In reality, hospice care provides pain management, spiritual support and other forms of symptom control and personal care for people with a life-limiting illness.
As part of these discussions, include other members of your care network, including family members and medical providers. Remember, family members often serve as primary caregivers, which means this decision impacts you and other family members as well. Choosing hospice care and utilizing the services it provides can free up more time to be more present and enjoyable for you and your loved one.
Conduct preliminary research.
As you and your loved one begin researching hospice care agencies, it’s easiest to pose a handful of questions that will give you insights into which agency will best fit everyone’s needs.
Where does your loved one want to receive hospice services?
Hospice services are provided where the patient calls home. This can be in a private residence, a nursing facility, assisted living facility, independent living facility or even a homeless shelter.
What levels of care are provided?
Hospice care is tailored to each patient’s individual needs and circumstances. Medicare-certified hospice agencies provide four levels of hospice care:
- Routine home care: In the most common type of care, an interdisciplinary hospice care team conducts regular visits.
- Respite care: This level of care is provided for the patient to stay five days and five nights in a Medicare-certified facility when primary caregivers need a break.
- Continuous home care: This intensive type of care is provided by nursing staff for at least eight hours during a 24-hour period to manage the medical crisis and keep the patient comfortable at home.
- General inpatient care: This level of care is provided in a Medicare-certified facility and is provided to patients whose symptoms cannot be managed at home.
Is the provider Medicare-certified and nationally accredited?
Ensure that the agency is Medicare-certified and licensed and accredited in the state you seek care. Discuss payment options with the agency representative for hospice services including coverage by Medicare, Veterans Affairs benefits, private insurance coverage or charity care.
How many years have they been in operation?
If the agency has been in business for a while, that’s a good indication of stability and satisfaction from patients.
Speak to a representative over the phone.
Speaking directly to a representative of your agency of interest might reveal answers that aren’t readily available through online research. You should ask about the following areas to receive insight into their quality of care:
State or federal oversight agencies are independent third parties that survey hospice care providers to ensure their practices are legal and ethical and offer a standard of care.
Asking about internal evaluations gives you a sense that the provider takes their services seriously and finds ways to improve upon their own performance.
24/7 Emergency Care
If the unexpected happens, you want to know the response will be fast and available at any time of the day, seven days a week, including nights, weekends and holidays. Around-the-clock services improve access to care in an emergency and may help you avoid going to the hospital.
To ensure that the agency will be able to meet your loved one’s specific needs, mention your loved one’s conditions. Make sure they will be able to address your concerns with specific examples.
Support Provided to Caregivers and Family
Remember that you and other caregivers in your family or care network are part of the equation. Your hospice care provider should also provide services that help you through difficult times, especially bereavement care.
Learn about the experiences of current patients.
You can learn from current patients and families to better understand those who will have experienced the services you are looking for. The following should be available either through online research or an agency’s website:
- Testimonials: These are direct quotes from patients and patient family members.
- Surveys: Patient satisfaction ratings are based on the Home Health Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, a third-party organization that looks at communication, safety and other measures.
- Quality scores: These can be good indicators of trustworthy agencies. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services monitors and reports on the quality of home health agencies on Care Compare.
Get compassionate, skilled care from Amedisys.
Hospice care is intended to create an improved quality of life through symptom control, pain management and spiritual support, so you and your loved one can make the most of the time you have left together.
If you’re fairly sure that hospice care is the next right step but still want to be certain, take the Amedisys hospice quiz.