We [the CMS] believe the role of the physician within hospices has been undervalued, and we would like to see the physician’s participation increase in the care of long-stay patients. That’s one of the messages to take away from the CMS regulation mandating physician (or nurse practitioner) face-to-face encounters to certify a patient’s continued hospice eligibility. The Medicare program reimburses a hospice nearly $30,000 over a six-month period to provide for the total healthcare needs of a patient with advanced illness- a single physician visit to that patient’s residence over that period isn’t too much to require, is it?

To me, it seems likely that such patients would benefit from a care planning visit by a physician. After all, the distinguishing feature of hospice care from most other care covered by Medicare is its collaborative nature, and the primacy of the interdisciplinary team.

Such care, of course, lies at the core of palliative medicine.

Rather than treating this regulation as a compliance issue, hospice executives, and physicians, would do well to incorporate physician recertification visits into their clinical practice patterns. One can be confident that patients, and their families, will appreciate the value of these visits.

Recently, a family member passed away after a broken hip confined her to a skilled nursing facility. A hospice program served her during her final three months. During that time, she was not seen by a hospice and palliative medicine physician. And while her (and the family’s) hospice experience was positive, the interdisciplinary team concept seemed incomplete without a single bedside appearance from the physician.