A few thoughts on face-to-face.

If you work or volunteer in hospice, the biggest change you’ve probably heard about this year was the implementation of the ‘face to face’ encounter. In simple terms, it was a provision within the Health Care Reform law that mandated that a hospice doctor or Nurse Practitioner physically visit a patient after six month of that patient entering hospice to make sure that the patient was still appropriate for hospice.

Seems simple, no? It’s a well intentioned law that has the well-being of the patient at heart. And while the implementation of that law has been fraught with challenges to hospices and patients alike, I still have to say that I like the objective at its’ core- One of the best ways to make sure the patient is getting the care they need is to go and see them. Humans are social creatures, and we learn more about one another by sitting down face to face than I think we sometimes let on.

Last week I traveled to NHPCO’s Clinical Team Conference in San Diego (don’t get too mad at me- it rained most of the time…). I was there to talk to conference attendees about the Hospice Action Network, to record video testimonials, and to forge lasting connections with members of the hospice community. Now, I’m not a networker by nature. It doesn’t come easily to me to introduce myself to total strangers and strike up conversations about the intricacies of federal Medicare policy (to be honest, it would worry me a little if it did come naturally). But here’s the thing- CTC is mainly a conference for those great folks at the bedside. It’s an educational conference geared towards the clinical team. The people at CTC are exactly the kind of folks who can walk right up to you and strike up that kind of conversation, and in fact when they’re working with patients this is part of what they do- they explain how the Medicare Hospice Benefit works. It couldn’t have been easier for me to talk with folks at the conference, to hear what they’re struggling with, what would be helpful for them, and what policies they feel would be beneficial. The connections I made were very valuable- since I’ve been back from the conference I’ve already connected with folks from Michigan, Oklahoma and Nebraska about making strong, lasting investments in Hospice Advocacy in their communities. I can honestly say that I don’t feel that the Hospice Action Network could have counted on their support without actually having met representatives from those programs and made that contact.

Personal connections matter. I remarked in an email today to a colleague that I could write 100 emails, but they wouldn’t have the impact of one good five-minute conversation in person. Of course, the same is true at all levels- especially with your Members of Congress. Here at the Hospice Action Network we do a good bit of work with the Congressional Management Foundation. One of their recent polls of Congressional staff found that if a Member of Congress’s mind wasn’t made up on an issue, an in-person visit with a constituent was well over 90% likely to influence their decision.

It feels like Hill Day 2011 was yesterday, but here at the HAN offices, we’re already gearing up for Hill Day 2012. While writing an email or sending a fax is helpful in influencing what your Members of Congress think about hospice, it’s nothing compared to you telling them in person. Your hospice story is important here in Washington, and we here at HAN want to help you share it. If you have questions about how to become more involved in Hospice Advocacy or Hill Day 2012, drop us a line- we’re always here to help you help hospice.

The Hospice Action Network staff can be reached at info@nhpcohan.org.