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Timely Hospice Care Saves Medicare Dollars

June 19, 2013

Susan Adams 121213 A -28A recent bulletin of the Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home pointed out that new research from Mt. Sinai has validated that hospice care saves money for Medicare and improves the quality of care received by Medicare beneficiaries.  Researchers looked at the most common hospice enrollment periods and found that in every instance, hospice patients had significantly lower rates of hospital and intensive care use, hospital readmissions, and in-hospital death when compared to non-hospice patients with a similar illness.

Susan Adams, RN, BSN, PhD, Regional Vice President and Administrator for Masonicare Home Health & Hospice, is not surprised by the results.  “During my years in the field, I’ve seen hundreds of instances where hospice care has not only improved the quality of life of patients, but has given them the opportunity to live it optimally as they near the end of their time here,” she said recently.

Here, Ms. Adams, with input from Doreen Brown-Wade, Hospice Director for MHH, offers her thoughts on the study’s results and explains how Masonicare’s Hospice team works every day to help patients and their families deal with this most difficult time in their lives.

Can you explain how hospice care can actually save Medicare dollars?
Hospice care provided at the appropriate time significantly reduces hospital and intensive care use by patients with a life-limiting illness.  It has been proven that with hospice care, there are less hospital re-admissions and in-hospital deaths when those patients are compared to matched non-hospice patients.  Not only does this improve quality of life, it reduces the amount of money Medicare pays for end-of-life care.

Once someone has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, how soon should he or she consider receiving hospice care?

Patients can receive Palliative Care while still seeking on-going treatment for a life-limiting illness. Earlier referrals for Palliative Care provide earlier referrals to Hospice. Generally, patients should be referred to hospice once the patient’s physician determines that he or she has a life-limiting prognosis of six months or less.                                                                                         

Can you discuss the important role palliative care plays in the care of hospice patients?

Palliative care is a team approach similar to the hospice philosophy of care.  Having a patient on palliative care prior to hospice introduces the team approach to care, thereby addressing all of the patient’s and his or her family’s needs: medical, psychosocial, and spiritual. This allows the patient and family to focus on those activities that are important to them.  Hospice focuses on living life as fully as possible, even as the end of life draws near. 

How does Masonicare’s hospice team help hospice patients remain at home – or in a facility they call home – rather than being admitted or readmitted to a hospital for symptom and pain management?

Patient-centered “holistic care” focuses on not treating a patient’s disease. Team members work towards the same goal – providing comfort and avoiding painful testing and futile treatments for patients.   The team provides aggressive symptom management, ensuring that pain and other symptoms that are distressing to the patient and family are controlled by using expertise in the treatment of people who are dying. We work with patients, families and facility staff to provide education, teaching and support for the journey from life to death.

How does the hospice team help patient’s families handle the stress and the emotional roller coaster they’re on when dealing with a loved one’s approaching death?

The hospice team provides emotional and spiritual support, with members serving as good listeners who can help the patient and family cope with the dying process. We offer caring hospice volunteers who provide companionship, respite care, make phone calls, write letters and offer other valuable services.

Do you think the results of this study will convince our legislators and the healthcare community as a whole that hospice care should be more readily available and encouraged for terminally-ill patients?

Through firsthand experience, hospice professionals have seen that the interdisciplinary team approach greatly improves quality of life for patients and families facing life-limiting illness.  We must increase our efforts to educate the public and healthcare providers alike that early enrollment in hospice not only helps patients and families, but also reduces Medicare costs.  It also ensures that patients’ care preferences will be met earlier in the management of their disease.

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To learn more about the outstanding hospice and palliative care services provided by Masonicare Home Health & Hospice, please call the Masonicare HelpLine at 888-679-9997 or visit www.masonicare.org.