When I describe to health care colleagues outside the hospice and palliative care field the nature of my work (developing medical staffs of palliative medicine physicians) the usual response is something along the lines of : That must be a high-growth field". At first, it was easy to agree. I'm unsure now.
One, industry data suggests that hospice utilization may be approaching its zenith. In the ten states with highest hospice penetration (% of deaths served by hospice), utilization has dropped in recent years in seven of the ten.
Two, while the number of people availing themselves of the hospice benefit has grown annually by 2.3% from 2001-2008, the number of hospices has grown nearly 5% annually, or a rate more than twice that of the growth of patients using the hospice benefit (2010 MedPac Report). If one believes that small equals proficiency, then surely this is the golden era of hospice care. 50 % of hospices ADMIT fewer than two patients per week.
Three, hospital-based palliative care programs, another significant employer of HPM physicians,
may be experiencing growth in terms of new programs, but hospital-based programs are finding "same-store" growth slowing.
There's no disputing that hospices of today's median size are not as likely as hospices with an average daily census of 100 or more to deploy the services and expertise of a full-time HPM physician. Industry observers have been asserting for the past decade (and perhaps longer) that hospices will be consolidating. Meanwhile, there are few signs that such consolidation is indeed occurring. In fact, the biggest transaction in 2010 has been the acquisition of a national for-profit hospice chain by a HOME HEALTH giant. Who's to say if such a transaction will lead to hospices combining their operations with like-minded organizations, thus spurring the oft-cited predictions of consolidation.
Are home health-hospice combinations a positive development? Certainly could be, depending upon where one sits. And how will HPM physicians fare under such combinations? I'm curious to learn your thoughts.
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