How to Choose a Hospice Provider

Get the Checklist: Choosing a Hospice Provider

Choosing a hospice provider is one of the most important decisions you will make for yourself, a loved one and your family. By law, every hospice program must offer the same basic services to patients and their families. So how can you be sure you’re choosing the best hospice program?

Keep these factors and questions in mind when choosing a hospice provider to ensure you receive the professional, compassionate end-of-life care you and your family deserve.

Evaluate the provider’s history and reputation. How long has the provider been in business? Does it hire its own employees to provide care or does it contract with other agencies? What do other patients/families say about their experiences with this provider?

Check the provider’s certification, licensing and payment policies. Is the hospice Medicare-certified, licensed and accredited in your state? Is it certified by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a We Honor Veterans program? Does it accept Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits and most private insurance coverage for hospice care? Does it provide charity care to patients with minimal or no medical insurance or financial resources?

Obtain details about the depth and breadth of care you and your family will receive. Does the program create an individualized care plan? Does the hospice assign an interdisciplinary team to each patient: nurse, physician, aide, social worker, chaplain, bereavement specialist and volunteer? How frequently do team members visit? Do they educate family members and caregivers about how to care for a hospice patient at home?

Ensure that the program provides all four levels of mandatory hospice care. These include hospice care at home (wherever you call home, including private home, nursing home or assisted living facility); continuous care up to 24 hours per day (when medically necessary); inpatient hospice care (when symptoms and pain can no longer be managed at home); and respite care (up to 5 days) for caregivers. Does the provider deliver all medical equipment, medications and supplies related to the terminal diagnosis to the patient at no charge?

Ask specific questions about timing, emergencies and the program’s ability to provide specialty care. How quickly can hospice care start? Are patients admitted 24/7, including after hours, weekends, holidays? Does the program provide a 24-hour hotline staffed by trained hospice clinicians to answer your questions and respond during emergencies or crises? Will someone stay with you or your loved one at the time of death?

Assess the provider’s ability to meet the needs of seriously ill or complex patients. Can it care for patients who require complex modalities or have more than one chronic disease? Are team members certified in specialized comfort care for cardiac patients, lung disease, Alzheimer’s, etc.? Do team members provide care that honors the cultures, traditions, beliefs and needs of specific populations (e.g. veterans, LGBTQ, African American, Latino, Haitian, Asian, Jewish, etc.)? Does it provide palliative care to patients not yet eligible for hospice?

Explore supportive services. Are families trained to use medical equipment at home? Does the program provide integrated services like music therapy, massage therapy, pet visits, etc.? What services do volunteers offer, and how are they trained? Are team members available to talk about advance directives and advance care planning? After a death, how long will bereavement services continue?

Once you’ve contacted a hospice program and interacted with staff members, pay attention to your impressions. Were the representatives you spoke with empathetic? Were they good communicators? Did they answer all questions to your satisfaction?

Learning about end-of-life care options can transform a difficult time into a “good death.” Collect information and ask the right questions to make sure you choose the best hospice provider for your family, your unique situation. Ensure that interactions, experiences and memories will be positive and heart-warming for years to come.

Call VITAS to learn more about hospice and palliative care options.