Ask these five questions before choosing a hospice care provider

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Richard Long, MD

by Richard Long, MD

I am a hospice care physician with HopeHealth. My colleagues and I bring comfort and care to individuals and their families when time matters most.

If you or a loved one is considering hospice, your doctor may give you a list of hospice agencies to choose from. Not all hospices are the same. You have the right to review your options and learn more about them before making this important decision.

Below are some questions to ask.

1. Can your hospice agency provide care in different places, or just at home?

In my experience, it is helpful if a hospice agency can accompany patients and families through different environments. Seeing familiar faces brings comfort and means you don’t have to repeat your story over and over again. Here is what a full-service hospice agency provides:

    • Home-based hospice care is important for the many people who would prefer to spend their final days in the comfort of home.
    • Some individuals need more care than their family can give. A full-service hospice agency can transition with patients from home to assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities.
    • For individuals admitted to a hospital, hospice providers can help them communicate with hospital staff and develop a care plan that reflects their goals.
    • Finally, some hospice agencies offer an inpatient hospice facility, which provides 24-hour care to manage more serious symptoms until the patient is stable.

2. Are your doctors and nurses hospice-certified?

If you or a loved one is faced with a life-limiting illness, you have worries enough without having to research doctor credentials. So another good thing to look for is a hospice agency staffed by doctors and nurses who are board-certified in hospice and palliative medicine.

Board certification is a stamp of credibility. It’s awarded only to the best and brightest clinicians within a specialized field of medicine (like pediatrics, heart surgery or hospice and palliative medicine). A hospice full of folks who are exceptionally qualified lets you know you’re in the best hands.

Seeing familiar faces brings comfort and means you don’t have to repeat your story over and over again.

3. Does your hospice agency provide care 24 hours per day, 7 days per week?

It’s important to choose a hospice agency that is ready and willing to care for you or your loved one any time of day or night, 365 days per year.

Say it’s 2:00 a.m., and you or your loved one is having trouble breathing. This can be a distressing situation, but a phone call to hospice, or maybe even a house visit, can get your family through. As hospice care providers, we’ve seen it all and are trained to think on our feet, calmly and compassionately, to alleviate distress and bring comfort.

4. Does your hospice agency provide palliative care?

First let’s distinguish between hospice care and palliative care.

Hospice care is appropriate when life expectancy is six months or less if the disease progresses its natural course. Cure is not an option, and patients wish only for physical and emotional comfort.

Palliative care also offers relief from symptoms, but it’s for serious, chronic illness not related to life expectancy. People can be on palliative care for a long time and alongside curative care, like chemotherapy or surgery.

An agency that offers both types of services can accompany you through chronic illness and, if needed, through terminal illness and the end of life. The common thread is a focus on eliminating stressful symptoms and helping you achieve quality of life, whatever that means to you.

Palliative care offers relief from symptoms, but it’s for serious, chronic illness not related to life expectancy.

5. Does your hospice agency accept Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance?

Some people don’t consider hospice because they think it’s too costly. Far from it, hospice actually is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans.

It’s assuring to know that hospice coverage pays for a whole team of professionals across disciplines, including doctors, nurses, nurse aides, social workers, spiritual counselors, hospice aides, and even grief support for your family.

As professional caregivers, we all bring something to the mix, and all of us together are better able to bring comfort and support than any of us alone. You or your loved one and family can choose all or a few of these services, just as you can choose the hospice agency that cares for you.

Dr. Richard Long is a board-certified hospice medical director with HopeHealth, a non-profit provider of hospice, palliative care, home care, and dementia and Alzheimer’s support services, serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

At HopeHealth, we’re here to answer your questions.

Call us at (844) 671-HOPE or


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