Medicare launched its new Hospice Compare website last year in an effort to help patients find and evaluate hospice providers.
The only problem, medical experts say, is that the site may not be all that helpful.
Medicare covers any reasonable care that helps ease the course of a terminal illness through its comprehensive hospice benefit. In August, the agency launched the new website, aimed at improving transparency and giving patients more access to care.
The site provides information on how hospices handle treatment preferences and patient beliefs and values. It also tells patients how facilities assess and treat things like pain, shortness of breath.
But Hospice Compare, run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) may not be that useful, argue a group of medical professionals in a recent paper published in Health Affairs.
“Little room” to measure quality
As Kaiser Health News put it, the quality measurements described above are self-reported and may have “limited utility” according to some experts.
“Over three-quarters of hospices scored at least 91 percent out of 100 on six of the seven categories,” Kaiser Health News’ Melissa Bailey wrote. “Because so many hospices reported high marks, there is ‘little room’ for using these metrics to measure hospice quality, argued the authors, led by Dr. Joan Teno at the University of Washington.”
And while some aspects of the website may be helpful, patients need different information when searching for hospice care, Dr. Joanne Lynn of the non-profit Altarum Institute.
This information includes things such as how much time the hospice spends on at-home care compared to nursing home care, and the hospice staff’s average caseload.
“Flagged as wrong”
Worse still, the site is apparently providing consumers with wrong information, according to a story in the December 2017 edition of trade publication Modern Healthcare.
“Almost immediately providers noticed that it had incorrect addresses. Phone numbers and profit status have also been flagged as wrong by industry,” Modern Healthcare’s Virgil Dickson reported. “For months the trade group has been working with the CMS to fix the issue only for the problem to remain.”
In the meantime, the CMS is telling patients to call to confirm that hospice providers listed on the website serve their area.
Oversight in the hospice industry is critical. A Kaiser Health investigation published last year in TIME found that neglect and missed visits are common for patients receiving home hospice care, leading families and caregivers to file more than 3,200 complaints since 2012.
Those complaints helped inspectors uncover problems at more than 750 hospices, more than half of which had missed visits or other services they pledged to provide.
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