Are all hospice agencies the same?

Hospice is a Medicare program, so agencies that pursue Medicare certification must offer the same basic services. However, the “same basic services” does not necessarily mean these services are equal. Hospice providers have choices in how they design and carryout a treatment plan. These differences can provide a very different hospice experience across agencies.

If you have a choice, selecting a hospice agency should be a carefully considered decision. For example, an agency can be certified only by Medicare which is managed by the state the agency is in. However, agencies can choose to pursue stricter and more stringent standards. This may involve accreditation with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization or review by an outside organization, such as the Community Health Accreditation. Agencies that pursue these higher standards show that while the minimum requirements to provide “hospice” are met, these agencies are choosing the next level of care and are measured on their performance across other aspects of the hospice service.

Hospice is a medical service, but not all of hospice has to be medically focused. Some hospice agencies embrace alternative interventions such as massage therapy, energy work, therapeutic music, and palliative therapies, such as physical, occupational or speech. Also, some hospice agencies support specific populations, such as geriatrics, veterans, or pediatric patients. Some hospice agencies foster building in cultural considerations into the care, such as language used during service, religious beliefs and practices supported through spiritual care, and intentional inclusion of the diversity in the community. If these are important to you, make sure the hospice agency you select is open to alternative medicine options, such as naturopathic or Eastern approaches.

Finally, hospice is a 24/7 service, but that means different things for different providers. A monitored voicemail is different than a live answering service or a scheduled nurse visit the next day versus a middle of the night nurse phone call versus a middle of the night in-person nurse house call. Knowing what you need and want can help aid in differentiating what is available.

Choosing the right provider can demonstrate the unique value of hospice or tarnish a perspective of what the hospice benefit actually is. Take your time and start early. Schedule a meeting with a potential provider to better understand how they do hospice!