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Why discharging hospice care patients is poor for their health

Those who go to a hospice usually do so because they're nearing death. These types of facilities are often focused on offering their patients the pain management necessary to help them be as comfortable as possible in their last days. A recent study, published in the Health Affairs journal, suggests that at least 20 percent of all hospice patients are being discharged from hospice care despite being on the brink of death.

Researchers have determined that the reason individuals are being released from hospice care before they die is because it saves them money. As hospice patients' conditions worsen, the chance that they'll need costly treatments or more intensive care goes up. As it does, these hospice facilities tend to discharge patients to be treated at hospitals. Many times, the patients return when they're released by their doctors.

Since the hospice industry first started as a grassroots movement in 2000, the practice of prematurely discharging patients has gained in popularity. It reached its peak between 2012 and 2013. As many as 20 percent of patients discharged from hospice ended up dying afterward during those years. Once a discharge had occurred, too often they no longer received the same standard of care from either the hospital or hospice afterward.

Researchers found that some facilities discharge patients at a rate as low as two percent. As for others, they discharge upward of 80 percent of them. For-profit hospice care facilities have a significantly higher live discharge rate than their non-profit counterparts. The south has the highest proportion of live discharges.

Researchers note that the patients who ultimately are discharged are not sent to other facilities or hospitals, but instead their homes.

The hospice industry is largely subsidized by Medicare. They reportedly commissioned this study because they suspected that hospice facilities were taking in patients that weren't actually sick enough to be there. At least two doctors have to certify that they believe the individual will die within six months in order for that patient to be admitted to hospice care.

Patients ill enough to be placed in hospice care risk not receiving adequate care necessary to make their last days as pain-free as possible when they're discharged before death. If you have a loved one who died after being prematurely released from hospice care, then a Louisville medical malpractice attorney can advise you of your right to collect damages in your case.

Source: NPR.org, "Nearly 1 In 5 Hospice Patients Discharged While Still Alive," Ina Jaffe, Aug. 18, 2017

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