Over half of all hospice referrals today come from hospitals that often wait too long to refer a patient into hospice care. Whether they believe a referral suggests they are abandoning the patient or they anticipate higher profits from an extended stay, too often hospitals prevent patients from receiving hospice care in time to make it meaningful.

Independent physicians and specialists often don’t have the time or experience to handle hospice care coordination efficiently. However, when physician groups align with hospice organizations in a formal community structure called a Connected Care Community, these doctors can remain on the front line of their patients’ care.

The Connected Care Community facilitates earlier hospice referrals and offers obvious benefits to the advanced illness patient and family, which we’ve outlined in a previous post. In addition, benefits go beyond improving quality of care. Participants within the community can add value to their own practices in multiple ways:

  1. Collective training: Through the Community, all members can be trained in how to talk with patients about their prognosis and provide end-of-life care, so care is not only appropriate but consistent.
  2. Shared decision making: Primary care providers, oncologists, cardiologists, nephrologists and other specialists within the community are not solely responsible for determining when to recommend a patient stop medical intervention and enter hospice. All physicians work with the same information and decisions are made as a team, giving patients the assurance that it’s the right time to focus on quality of life in lieu of curative treatment.
  3. Easy access to shared data: Providers and hospice administrators have access to the same real time data through a Community portal and can better manage patient care with a holistic view of the patient’s health and behaviors—from hospitalization to patterns in compliance to polypharmacy. Hospice can help PCPs identify when patients should be transitioned, based on the data, and PCPs can stay involved with their patients’ treatment. The connected community can share the cost of integrating their EHR systems and avoid having to spend unreimbursed time tracking down patient records from providers and pharmacists.
  4. Timely transition: With support from the care team, physicians know when to transition costly patients to palliative or hospice care providers who are better equipped and reimbursed to deliver the appropriate care. By receiving referrals earlier, hospice organizations not only improve their daily census but can amortize substantial initial enrollment costs over a longer period to increase their profitability.
  5. Cost management: By coordinating services with hospice, providers can better manage the complex needs of patients with terminal illnesses in the most cost-effective way, saving those patients from over-medication, duplicate services, ER visits, hospital readmissions, and ineffective treatments. Additionally, they can help maximize the patients’ use of their Medicare benefits for pain and symptom relief.
  6. Increased patient load: When PCPs and specialists refer their highest-need patients to hospice earlier, they reduce the time treating complex medical issues and increase the number of patients they have time to treat.
  7. Bonus dollars: Physicians and ACOs whose compensation is tied to quality metrics can increase their bonus payments by keeping patient costs under control.