When you or a family member qualifies for hospice care, the search for a quality, compassionate provider doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You want a hospice provider who offers professional care with heart and dignity for the final months of life. You need a partner who offers a patient-centered care plan and services that enhance their quality of life. 

Understandably, you don’t know in advance what you’ll need. How, then, do you find a hospice company that fits your personal needs and has rapport with your family? Help narrow down your choices by asking good questions when choosing a hospice team.

Top Questions to Ask Hospice

The patient’s doctor, hospital, or nursing facility may recommend a specific hospice provider, but families are free to interview and choose any approved provider they prefer. To qualify for hospice services, a patient must have a life expectancy of six months or less and no longer pursue curative treatments for their terminal disease.

Heart to Heart Hospice has provided the most important questions when interviewing hospice providers below. These are compiled from lists provided by the Hospice Foundation of America and Medicare.

Provider Evaluation

What do others say about this hospice? 

References and word of mouth provide valuable information. Ask people you know who have utilized hospice care, healthcare providers, hospitals, and nursing homes. Geriatric care providers make frequent referrals and often receive feedback on providers.

How long has the hospice been in operation?

Longevity often indicates stability. 

Is the hospice accredited?

While accreditation by outside parties (such as JCAHO or CHAP) isn’t a full indication of quality, it shows the hospice operations have been evaluated and meet a certain standard of care.

How does the hospice measure and track quality?

You don’t need to know the technical specifics, but learning how the hospice team tracks performance and seeks to improve it gives peace of mind. For example, staff are trained and certified in certain areas (dementia or cancer care) or required to take training seminars to maintain or improve quality care.

Hospice Services

Are your MDs/RNs certified in palliative care?

Palliative care (or comfort care) certification isn’t a full indicator of the quality of caregiving, but specialized training and understanding of palliative and/or end-of-life hospice care is valuable. 

How often do nurses or other care team members visit?

Depending on their needs, each patient’s care plan is customized and includes regular visits from nurses, aides, volunteers, and other team members. This is usually set during the intake process, but you can ask what is typical or expected.

Does the hospice offer extra services beyond those required?

While curative treatments are not offered under the Medicare hospice benefit, medical therapies such as physical, occupational, or speech therapy intended for palliation of symptoms as well as dietary counseling are provided. Some non-medical services may be offered by a hospice provider, such as music, pet, or aroma therapies. Make sure to ask about specialized disease-targeted programs.

How rapid is crisis response?

If the patient’s pain increases or symptoms suddenly change and you need to call the 24/7 on-call line, what is their average response time?

What are the options for inpatient care?

If the patient is being cared for at home, they made need inpatient care for complicated symptoms or to give family caregivers respite. Leased beds in hospitals or nursing facilities may be available, or the hospice provider has its own local short-term inpatient respite facility. 

Caregiver Support

What is expected of the family caregiver?

Hospice care isn’t around-the-clock caregiving by healthcare professionals. It is resources, visits, education, and medical and practical support. See what is expected of the caregiver(s) and if the family is able to meet expectations once they are trained and equipped.

Can the hospice provider meet specific needs? 

Name any special concerns or considerations of the patient or family. Ask how the provider will handle those concerns, such as disabilities, non-discrimination efforts, language barriers, or special family circumstances.

If the family caregiver gets really exhausted can we get respite care?

Caregiver burnout is real, and proactively maintaining your own health and seeking respite is important. Medicare covers short-term respite care breaks (up to 5 days at a time) at an inpatient center or contracted bed in a skilled nursing center. Ask about conditions and limitations of this type of coverage.

What kind of bereavement services does the hospice offer?

Hospice doesn’t just provide patient care, but extends to grief support after death for the patient’s loved ones. This can include a wide range of services from counseling to support groups, educational materials, and more.

Final Evaluation

What are your general impressions at initial contact?

Were you comfortable with the hospice representative? Did they fully answer your questions and concerns? Do you feel rapport and confidence that they can provide personalized, quality services for your loved one and family?