Federal Agency Unveils New Website to Compare Hospice Groups

The site, run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, went live on a Wednesday, and allows users to compare how well staff manage certain health conditions.

by Liz Freeman, Naples Daily News, Fla. / August 21, 2017

(TNS) -- The federal government has released a website that compares hospice groups to allow families to shop around — if they have more than one option in their community.

 

The hospice compare website by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, CMS went live Wednesday and enables families to see how well hospice staff identify care preferences and address pain, shortness of breath and other comfort issues. The website is at medicare.gov/hospicecompare.

There are two hospice providers in Collier County and one in Lee County, although Lee has a much larger population base.

Hospice services for the terminally ill with a prognosis of six months or less to live have mushroomed from its early days in the 1970s to 6,100 organizations today, many with multiple locations. Hospices have cared for roughly 1.7 million patients nationwide in 2014. That’s the latest year for which data is available from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in Alexandria, Virginia.

CMS announced plans for a consumer-based hospice compare website several years ago under the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — and is part of the federal agency’s ongoing campaign to make health care quality standards and measurements more transparent for consumers. A similar website compares hospitals using Medicare data.

The hospice website similarly draws on Medicare data from October 2015 through September 2016 that hospices submitted. Consumers can look up a hospice by name or by ZIP code, and a series of scores for a particular hospice is compared with national averages.

The national hospice group recognizes that residents in a community may not have a lot of choices for hospice providers, so the scores might provide insight for families into questions they need to ask, according to spokesman Jon Raduloovic. The national group also has a document on its website — www.caringinfo.org — that can be a guide for families.

In Collier, nonprofit Avow Hospice, in operation since 1974, has a score of 100 percent for staff discussing treatment preferences and values with the patient or caregivers at the start of their care, compared with a national score of 98.3 percent, the data show.

There also is Vitas Healthcare Corp. of Florida in Collier. The Melbourne-based company received a score of 92.2 percent on the patient preferences measurement.

In Lee, the nonprofit Hope Hospice, which also serves patients in Glades and Hendry counties, has a score of 99.4 percent for meeting patient preferences.

Other measurements consider how well hospice staff identify and provide intervention to prevent pain and shortness of breath, and constipation caused by opioids to address patient comfort.

Avow scored 99.2 percent for checking for pain at the beginning of a patient’s hospice care, Vitas scored 79.4 percent, and Hope scored 97.5 percent. The national average is 93.9 percent.

Hospice officials in Southwest Florida said the compare site has been in the works for several years.

“I think it’s a good start, and it helps people know a little more about services we provide because it is a holistic approach,” said Samira Beckwith, president and chief executive officer of Hope, which has a $100 million operating budget this year. Hope provided services for 4,000 patients last year.

What is a little tricky is how data may be input in charts and not easily carried over into what the federal agency uses for its scoring, she said. That may account for Hope’s lower score on patients getting a timely assessment for pain when pain is first identified.

Hospice organizations were not required to take part in the reporting for the website, but opting out meant taking a cut in Medicare reimbursement, Beckwith said.

For many families, referral to hospice care is word of mouth, which requires physician certification that an individual is terminal, she said.

Although there is one hospice organization in Lee, similar to the situation in many other communities, there are other options for comfort care at home or a nursing home, although the services wouldn’t be covered under the Medicare hospice benefit, she said.

The website begins to provide insight into care, Mary Zalaznik, senior vice president for Vitas office of patient experience, said in a statement.

“As with all new quality measurement tools, there will need to be revisions to the methodology and data collection process,” she said. “Vitas looks forward to continuing our efforts to work with CMS to provide suggestions that aim to improve the breadth and depth of the hospice compare site and survey methodologies.”

The CMS administrator said the compare website is a reliable source of information for families.

Avow officials could not be reached for comment.

“The hospice compare website is an important tool for the American people and will empower them in a time of vulnerability as they look for information necessary to make important decisions about hospice care for loved ones,” Seema Verma, the CMS administrator, said in a press release. “Additionally, caregivers can get support through the hospice benefit, such as grief and loss counseling.”

©2017 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.