Shorter length of service causes hospice concern

Although hospice care has remained steady, the length of service (or length of stay) dropped last year, suggesting that the providers are not reaching patients in a timely manner, according to a new National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) report.

There were 1.58 million hospice patients in 2010, slightly more than 1.56 million in 2009, according to a press release from the nonprofit last week. However, hospice and palliative care professionals are concerned about the reduced length of service. The average length of service dropped to 67.4 days in 2010 from 69 days in 2009, and the median length of service in 2010 was 19.7 days, a decrease from 21.1 days in 2009.

With half of hospice patients receiving care for fewer than 20 days, NHPCO President and CEO J. Donald Schumacher said, "We don't want appropriate access of hospice care to drop-particularly with our aging population where more people are dying with complex, multiple illnesses."

He continued, "It's very difficult for patients and families to take full advantage of the range of services hospice offers when they are under care for only a few days. We must be careful about focusing too intently on long stay patients while turning a blind eye to the large number of patients dying in less than a week."

While hospice providers are growing concerned over reduced length of service, the rest of the industry has paid close attention to cost savings. Over the past decade, hospice care has had substantial growth in the number of programs and patients served, according to the report.

Most hospice patients (66.7 percent) receive care in a home (either their place of residence or another home-type facility) in 2010. About 22 percent receive hospice care in a hospice inpatient facility, and 11.4 percent receive care at an acute care hospital, the report stated.

For more information:
- read the press release
- check out the report (.pdf)

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