Family physicians shouldn't be shy about touting the "cradle-to-grave" care that they are trained to provide their patients.
And part of that privilege is end-of-life care, including, for some patients, that final transition to hospice care, where palliative treatment becomes the daily focus.
That's why an announcement from CMS regarding the launch of its Hospice Compare website(www.medicare.gov) is welcome news for family physicians and their patients.
According to the Aug. 16 press release(www.cms.gov), the website was designed to improve the consumer experience and empower patients.
It gives users a "snapshot" of the quality of care a hospice facility provides to its patients and will help patients and their families make informed health care decisions.
- CMS just launched its Hospice Compare website to help patients and their families find a quality hospice provider in their area.
- The AAFP has a policy on hospice that points out, among other things, that family physicians are well suited to serve as hospice physicians and medical directors.
- Read a family physician's account of how he transitioned from being a hospice care referral source to a hospice care physician -- and why he's glad he did.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma, M.P.H., called the website "an important tool" that will help empower consumers in a "time of vulnerability" as they look for the details they need to make critical decisions about where to go for hospice care.
CMS describes hospice services as offering "specialized care and support to individuals with a terminal illness and a prognosis of six months or less if the illness runs its normal course." The release notes that once a patient chooses to receive hospice care, the health care focus shifts from "curative treatment to palliative care for relief of pain and symptom management."
"Care is generally provided where the patient lives," and patients and their families want to find a hospice organization in their area that has shown it provides quality care, says CMS.
Family physicians should feel comfortable using this new resource and sharing it with patients and their families who find themselves in need of these services.
Visitors to the site can compare hospice providers based on quality measures including the percentage of patients screened for pain, or for difficult or uncomfortable breathing, and whether patients' preferences are met.
The site currently holds data on some 3,876 hospice organizations -- data that is reported by hospices to CMS and includes quality data from the Hospice Item Set(www.cms.gov) and the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Hospice Survey(www.cms.gov).
The AAFP acknowledges the importance of family physicians' involvement in end-of-life care -- including the provision of hospice care -- in a policy statement first conceived in 1979 and updated by the Academy's 2016 Congress of Delegates.
The policy states, "The family physician, by virtue of unique training, is in a position to provide a leadership role in hospice care. The concept of hospice is one of comprehensive care for the dying."
The AAFP points out the role of family physicians as "personal doctors for people of all ages and health conditions" and notes that family physicians are a patient's "reliable first contact for health concerns."
The AAFP policy speaks of the "enduring partnerships" family physicians create with their patients in working together to prevent and manage illness, navigate the health system and set health goals.
Furthermore, says the policy, "Family medicine addresses the psychosocial needs of the patient, coordinating across all levels and environments of care and functioning as leaders of interdisciplinary teams."
Therefore, because of their unique ability to care for patients and provide continuity of care in all circumstances, and particularly in rural and underserved areas, "family physicians are in a position to serve as hospice physicians and medical directors," says the policy statement.
Family Physician Tells His Story
Readers who may have missed a 2013 blog post authored by (then) AAFP Board member Lloyd Van Winkle, M.D., of Castroville, Texas, should pause for a few moments right now and read his story.
In that post, titled "Hospice Experience Can be Rewarding," Van Winkle tells of his transition from a hospice care referral source to a hospice care physician.
His poignant retelling of a patient's last days illuminates, as he puts it, "What the hospice experience can be."
Van Winkle ends by telling his family physician colleagues, "If you think you don't have anything to offer to hospice care, you might be wrong."
Related AAFP News Coverage
Graham Center Research
Family Physicians Fill Gap in Palliative Care, Study Finds
More From AAFP
American Family Physician: AFP by topic: End-of-Life Care
CMS Fact Sheet: Hospice Compare Website(www.cms.gov)