When a patient is initially referred to hospice, usually by their physician or a case worker within the hospital, they are usually given a list of hospice agencies in the area to choose from. Sometimes these referral sources have a particular agency that they prefer and their recommendations shouldn't be taken lightly; they are in position to see how well a particular agency cares for their patients. However, as with any health care decision, you should be as informed as possible to know that you are making the best decision for you and your loved one.
Why it Matters
All hospice agencies work within the guidelines set forth by Medicare. The basic services they provide are the same across the board. This may leave you wondering why it would even matter which hospice agency you choose. There are differences, however, and they're often tucked away in the small details.
It's important to do a little research from the start to find where those differences lie.
To find out what services hospice agencies provide, see What is Hospice Care?
Your first interaction with a hospice agency may happen over the phone after they receive your referral information and call you to set up an appointment. It may happen in the hospital setting when a representative from the agency comes to evaluate your loved one and offer information. It may be initiated by you. Regardless of how your initial interaction takes place, there are some important facts to gather from the start.
The 5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Hospice Provider
- First, the location of the staff is important. More on that below.
- Second, what are the types of medical professionals employed by the hospice?
- Fourth, does the hospice have a good relationship with a pharmacy?
- Lastly, what levels of care are offered by the hospice?
Location, Location, Location
Hospice care can take place in the home, in a nursing home or in a hospital. Very few hospices have inpatient facilities, meaning most people receive hospice care via an independent agency. So, probably the most important question you can ask a hospice is related to the location of their nurses. Just to clarify, it really makes no difference where the agency's office is located but it makes a huge difference where the nurses are located. I used to work on-call for a large hospice agency that covered three counties, over 200 square miles. On weekends, I covered the entire area with only the help of one LVN (licensed vocational nurse). Consequently, I would sometimes be with a patient in one county and get a call from another patient who had a crisis in another county who then had to wait two hours or more until I was able to get there.
Knowing how far away the on-call nurses live from you and how large of an area the nurses cover is essential to knowing how responsive they will be to your urgent needs. Keep in mind that some hospice agencies have multiple branch offices that could be 50 miles or more apart from each other. Make sure that if the agency your looking at has multiple branch offices that they also have a separate on-call nurse covering each one, and that the on-call nurse covering your area also lives in your area. If you have a crisis in the middle of the night or on the weekend, the last thing you want to do is wait two or more hours for help.