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Patient length of stay is monitored to detect instances of inappropriate use of the hospice benefit or other deficiencies in the services delivered by the hospice provider. Length of stay is monitored for both very short length of stay as well as for length of stay that is longer than the norm.

What may unusual length of stay tell a hospice provider?

When patients are discharged alive with a short length of stay it may signal that the patient did not understand the hospice benefit when the patient was admitted to hospice. Or, patients may discharge live from hospice after just a few days because they were not satisfied with the services delivered by the hospice provider. Patients with length of stay longer than 180 days could be indicative of a patient who is no longer hospice eligible.  When ineligible patients continue to receive hospice services, this could lead to allegations of fraud or abuse, a Medicare overpayment determination, and a demand for return of funds.

How is length of stay calculated?

Length of stay is calculated based on the number of days that a patient receives hospice care. Specifically, for a patient who is discharged from hospice (whether or not the patient is discharged alive), the patient length of stay is calculated as follows:

Patient length of stay = [patient discharge date]-[patient admission date]+1

Which patients are included in length of stay calculation?

The length of stay calculation assumes that only discharged patients are considered in the calculation – since the formula expressly refers to the patient discharge date. When only discharged patients are considered (whether live discharges or discharges due to death), the hospice provider only has a backward-looking view on performance relating to length of stay. For example, if a hospice provider has been providing service to a patient for 12 months and the patient is still on service, the patient will not be included in the traditional average length of stay metric – since the patient has not yet been discharged. On the other hand, once the patient is discharged the patient’s length of stay will be at least 365 days since the patient – while still currently active – has already been on service for 365 days.  If active patients are considered in a length of stay calculation, it gives a hospice provider a metric that can be used to highlight patients whose charts and care may benefit from review.

What length of stay metrics should be calculated?

In addition to computing average and median length of stay based on discharged patients only, average and median length of stay can be computed for active patients. Patient length of stay for an active patient is calculated as follows:

Active patient length of stay = [end of evaluation period date]-[patient admission date]+1

For example, suppose the current date March 15, 2023 and a hospice wishes to calculate the active patient length of stay as of the end of 4Q 2022 for a patient who was admitted on December 1, 2022. The calculation is as follows:

  • End of evaluation period date: 12/31/22
  • Patient admission date: 12/1/22
  • Active patient length of stay = (12/31/22) – (12/1/22) + 1 = 31 days

The active patient length of stay as of the end of 4Q 2022 is 31 days.

If the hospice wishes to calculate the active patient length of stay as of current date, the calculation is as follows:

  • End of evaluation period date: 3/15/23
  • Patient admission date: 12/1/22
  • Active patient length of stay = (3/15/23) – (12/1/22) + 1 = 105 days

Average and median length of stay would be computed as usual.  If any concerning value — such as long length of stay – is identified based upon the active patient length of stay, a hospice provider can immediately investigate and determine if any remediation action is required, rather than waiting until patients are discharged. Delay can lead to additional fines or further action from Medicare.