Although inevitable, death is often difficult to conceptualize and even more sensitive to discuss. For hospitalists and other care providers, conversations about the end of life with families and caregivers can be fraught with emotion. The fact that something is uncomfortable does not mean it is not useful or valuable, however. Patients must be able to vocalize their end-of-life wishes and should feel confident that the healthcare system is able to respond.
To help with this effort, the Society of Hospital Medicine is supporting legislation that would encourage voluntary end-of-life conversations between patients and their healthcare providers. Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the Personalize Your Care Act of 2013 (H.R. 1173) would make Medicare reimbursement available for advance-care planning consultations, establish grants for state-level physician orders for life-sustaining treatment (POLST) programs, and require that advance directives be honored across state lines.
Hospitalists are integral team leaders for coordinating care and, as such, are often highly involved in end-of-life care for patients. They are at the front lines of these conversations, often tasked to plan end-of-life care and then carry out those plans. Many of their patients are acutely ill and need to face these critical decisions, often in real time.
End-of-life planning, like many other cognitive medical services, is not adequately reimbursed under current Medicare payment policy. This legislation would authorize Medicare to provide coverage for voluntary advance care consultations every five years or following changes in health, health-related condition, or care setting of the patient.
SHM is strongly supportive of adequate reimbursement for the counseling these patients require in planning their end-of-life care. The bill would make these conversations a practicable addition to the care and counseling workflow for healthcare providers and would ensure that they could occur at reasonable intervals and at significant changes in health or life events. These conversations would help ensure that patient wishes are respected at the end of life and prevent the use of unwanted treatments or interventions.
As the healthcare system works toward being more coordinated and more patient-centered, voluntary advance care planning is essential. Patients often see multiple providers at the end of their lives and—particularly as questions arise—it is imperative that providers have access to the most up-to-date advance care plans. H.R. 1173 works to address this gap by moving toward electronic health record display of advance directives and POLST.
Hospitalists may be eligible for reimbursement for these consultations, particularly in cases where these discussions did not occur in the outpatient setting. SHM is actively working with Rep. Blumenauer to ensure that all providers in a position to have these important conversations would be appropriately reimbursed. Patients need to have an active mechanism to ensure that their wishes are appropriately followed; this legislation would give them better access to these important and difficult conversations.
Joshua Lapps is SHM’s government relations specialist.