The days of open access for hospice, regrettably, have yet, with few exceptions, to come to fruition. The hospice industry in the US has been taken over by single-purpose organizations who are adept at "enrollment management" - that is, identifying both low-cost patients who would be financially attractive (and encouraging these patients to enroll on the hospice benefit) AND high-cost patients who would be financial drains (and discouraging those patients from enrolling). And it is difficult to fault these organizations, as their managers are merely responding to the financial incentives built into the hospice benefit by Medicare and other payers.
We are faced with the paradox that introduction of the hospice benefit has improved access to better end-of-life care, yet at the same time has come to define end-of-life care, and by extension, palliative care. It's similar to how 28 days of inpatient care came to define alcohol and drug rehab treatment merely because that's what the payers would cover.
How can we see further improvement in end-of-life care? By reorganizing how end-of life care is provided, so that "accountable palliative care organizations", of which hospices are an integral but not the whole piece, are the center of late-life care within health systems and communities.
Simply, the key elements of an APCO are:
- A Chief Palliative Care Officer (full-time physician credentialed in hospice and palliative medicine) accountable for palliative care services across all settings,
- Integrating tools that encourage dissemination of knowledge and promote collaboration across settings and disciplines (for example, APCOs have found Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) www.polst.org to be just such an integrating tool),
- Multiple sources of revenue (hospice, home health, physician services) that offer opportunities for cross-subsidization of individual patient care and economies of scale on the expense side.
How one constructs an APCO depends on many factors, mostly related to the amount of "palliative intellectual capital" already in place at the sponsoring organization.