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How to Choose a Hospice

The word "hospice" is often received by family members with a mixture of emotions when it is recommended for a loved one. Initial reactions can range from grief to anger, fear, hopelessness and regret. What family members and caregivers should understand is that the doctor makes this recommendation out of compassion.

When continuing treatment is no longer the best option, that's when hospice care steps in. Hospice focuses on care, not cure. The goal of hospice is to make the patient's remaining days as comfortable as possible. That almost always means that as soon as a patient goes on hospice care, his or her quality of life improves.

In most cases, hospice care is provided in the patient's home, so that he or she can be in a familiar environment, surrounded by loved ones. Hospice care also can be provided at a hospital, nursing home or other long-term care facility.

Where and how to start your search when choosing a hospice

So how do you go about finding a hospice provider? The healthcare professionals who oversee care are a good place to start. They likely have referred many patients and have received a lot of feedback from families — both positive and negative — and can share that with you.

As with anything health related, ask friends and family if they can give you any hospice recommendations. It's important that you trust the source of your information, and your friends and family are unlikely to steer you in the wrong direction.

An obvious place to look when figuring out how to choose a hospice is online sources. When you search online, you'll want to put in your desired location. That can help narrow down your optionsA search engine such as Google is the most obvious starting point, as well as social media (though when reading reviews consider that particularly when it comes to hospice, everyone's situation is different, and one family's experience may in no way reflect what you and your loved one might come to expect). If you want to see side-by-side comparisons, Medicare’s Hospice Compare is a reliable resource. You can search by hospice name or location, add agencies to a "favorites" list, and compare selected agencies.

Choosing a hospicequestions to ask.

Knowing what to ask in terms of hospice care is as important as knowing whom to ask. According to the American Hospice Foundationwhich was originally formed to improve access to quality hospice care, here are some key questions to ask that will help in your search for the hospice that's right for your situation:

  1. How long has the hospice been in operation?  
  2. Is the hospice Medicare certified, accredited and, if applicable, state licensed? 
  3. How does the hospice measure/track quality service? 
  4. Are any services offered beyond required services? For example, Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care offers a thoughtful Gift of a Day program. Additionally, what type of bereavement services are offered? 
  5. What are the expectations about the family's role in caregiving? Is respite care available for burned-out family members?  
  6. What is the average amount of hours spent with a patient? Does that increase in the last few days or hours of the patient’s life? 

Additional questions you may want to ask include:

  1. Can the hospice staff meet with you the same day a doctor recommendation is made? How long is the admissions process? 
  2. Can a patient be admitted at night, weekends or on a holiday, or are admissions limited to certain hours during the day? 
  3. Is the agency staffed 100 percent with its own employees or does it contract agency staff?  
  4. Does the service include a dedicated on-call team around the clock 
  5. Will the hospice strive to have someone with the patient in his/her final moments (nurse, aid, chaplain, social worker, etc.)? 
  6. What is the average number of weekly visits the hospice will provide? 

Additional tips for choosing a hospice provider.

Choosing a hospice provider for a loved one is not a decision to be taken lightly. A great deal of research and thought should go into your decision-making process. Following are additional considerations to take into account as you conduct your research.

As an article by Consumer Reports indicates, obtaining hospice care for a loved one doesn't mean you're giving up on them. In fact, if the patient's condition improves based on the better quality of life, hospice care can be discontinued and treatment resumed. The point is that you shouldn't postpone hospice care because you are in denial or avoiding the inevitable. By choosing hospice care, you'll know you're doing right by your loved one.