Palliative Care at a Crossroads

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Karen Utterback By Karen Utterback 
Former Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, McKesson (Retired)

Hospice Agencies Palliative Care at CrossroadsLonger life expectancies and the accompanying proliferation of chronic disease are bringing into sharp focus the differences between hospice care and palliative care. Home health and hospice agencies are ideally suited to provide palliative care, but many issues outside of agency control must be resolved before palliative care blossoms as a standard care choice.

New York passed legislation last year requiring that patients with advanced illnesses be told about – and given access to – palliative care. Eight other states are considering similar legislation, according to an article on the FierceHealthcare website.

Hospice agencies are treating more patients than ever, and reimbursements have been holding steady. But patients are living longer with life-threatening conditions, which blurs the line among hospice, palliative care and home health.

A study mentioned in a recent article in Stateline, the news service for The Pew Charitable Trusts, underlined the value of palliative care, showing that those who received palliative care cost $2,642 less per hospital admission than those with similar conditions who did not receive palliative care. However, the same article pointed out poor reimbursement for palliative care, especially for consultations with patients and their families.

The Department of Health and Human Services has been cracking down on perceived fraud in hospice claims, so it’s critical that home health and hospice agencies adopt a comprehensive agency and clinical management solution to help ensure that documentation is accurate, timely and meets regulatory guidelines.

Another issue limiting the spread of palliative care programs is a dearth of hospice and palliative care physicians. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine estimates that the industry needs an additional 15,000 specialty physicians just to meet current demand. Unfortunately, the number of slots in existing fellowship programs is not increasing, but demand is.

You see the benefits that palliative care can bring to the lives of patients each day. In time, I believe that more payers and providers will, too.

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