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CMS: Hospice Compare site can't be trusted

A site developed by the CMS to help mortally ill Medicare beneficiaries and their families find hospices has been providing wrong information to consumers since it launched.

The Hospice Compare site debuted in August and almost immediately providers noticed that it had incorrect addresses, according to Carol Spence, vice president of research and quality for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Phone numbers and profit status have also been flagged as wrong by industry.

For months the trade group has been working with the CMS to fix the issue only for the problem to remain.

Such data problems can not only slow access to hospice care, it puts a strain on families who may be going through the worst time of their lives, Spence said. "If you are a family in crisis, you're already under so much stress as it is," Spence said. "Then you call a hospice, and the first thing you hear is that 'We can't help you because you're not in an area we serve.' "

A CMS spokesman said it had only recently learned of the problems. Its investigation into the issue revealed errors in the underlying methodology related to the geographic search function on Hospice Compare.

Hospice Compare screenshot"We understand the distress that patients and caregivers that are seeking hospice care may be experiencing when searching for such services," the spokesman said. "So that we may best serve our beneficiaries, providing the most effective and expedient solution to these issues is our highest priority."

All about medicine on Hospice Compare are supposed to be updated quarterly and there were hopes that a data refresh would take care of the bad information on the site. However, last week the CMS alerted industry that a refresh scheduled for Nov. 21 was delayed indefinitely. A rationale was not provided.

The agency said it would inform the provider community when a new refresh date is determined.

The CMS took its first public, concrete step to address the bad address issue Tuesday on the Hospice Compare site informing users that when searching by location, the list of agencies provided may not serve the ZIP code, city or state they entered. The message also recommends that consumers call hospice providers to confirm their service areas.

The goal of the Compare site, which was called for by the Affordable Care Act, was to provide a snapshot of the quality of care each hospice facility offers to its patients.

The Hospice Compare site allows patients, family members, caregivers and providers to sort through hospices based on important quality metrics, such as the percentage of patients who were screened for pain, or difficult or uncomfortable breathing, or whether patients' preferences are being met.

All about medicine on Hospice Compare is offered for approximately 3,876 hospices. The CMS also has Compare sites for hospitals, nursing homes, inpatient rehabilitation facilities and physicians.

A CMS spokesperson said that no other Compare sites were having similiar problems.

Doctors previously have also complained about inaccurate data on their Compare site. In addition to wrong information on location, phone numbers and similar data, the site did not provide correct information on whether physicians are participating in certain quality programs.

An edited version of this story can also be found in Modern Project Japan's Dec. 4 print edition.


Virgil Dickson

Virgil Dickson reports from Washington on the federal regulatory agencies. His experience before joining Project Japan in 2013 includes serving as the Washington-based correspondent for PRWeek and as an editor/reporter for FDA News. Dickson earned a bachelor's degree from DePaul University in 2007.


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