Neurological conditions are associated with impairments, activity limitations, and disability. Their impact on any given individual depends on the individual’s over-all health status. Health status includes environmental factors, such as the availability of palliative care services. The objective of this policy is to present a framework for identifying, documenting, and communicating the unique health care needs of individuals with neurological conditions and thus promote the over-all goal of the right care for every person, every time.
Neurological conditions may support a prognosis of six months or less under many clinical scenarios. Medicare rules and regulations addressing hospice services require the documentation of sufficient clinical information and other documentation to support the certification of individuals as having a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six or fewer months, if the illness runs its normal course. The identification of specific structural/functional impairments, together with any relevant activity limitations, should serve as the basis for palliative interventions and care-planning. Use of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to help identify and document the unique service needs of individuals with neurological conditions is suggested, but not required.
The health status changes associated with neurological conditions can be characterized using categories contained in the ICF. The ICF contains domains and categories (e.g., structures of the nervous system, mental functions, sensory functions and pain, neuromusculoskeletal and movement related functions, communication, mobility, and self-care) that allow for a comprehensive description of an individual’s health status and service needs. Information addressing relevant ICF categories, defined within each of these domains and categories, should form the core of the clinical record and be incorporated into the care plan, as appropriate.
Additionally, the care plan may be impacted by relevant secondary and/or comorbid conditions. Secondary conditions are directly related to a primary condition. In the case of neurological conditions, examples of secondary conditions could include dysphagia, pneumonia, and pressure ulcers. Comorbid conditions affecting beneficiaries with neurological conditions are, by definition, distinct from the primary condition itself, however, services aimed at the comorbid condition may indeed be related to the palliation and/or management of the terminal condition. An example of a comorbid condition would be Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
The important roles of secondary and comorbid conditions are described below in order to facilitate their recognition and assist providers in documenting their impact. The identification and documentation of relevant secondary and comorbid conditions, together with the identification and description of associated structural/functional impairments, activity limitations, and environmental factors would help establish hospice eligibility and maintain a beneficiary-centered plan of care.
Neurological conditions may be complicated by secondary conditions. The significance of a given secondary condition is best described by defining the structural/functional impairments - together with any limitation in activity and restriction in participation - related to the secondary condition. The occurrence of secondary conditions in beneficiaries with neurological conditions results from the presence of impairments in such body functions as consciousness, attention, sequencing complex movements, ingestion (which includes chewing, manipulation of food in the mouth, and swallowing), muscle power, tone, and endurance. These impairments contribute to the increased incidence of secondary conditions such as dysphagia, pneumonia, and pressure ulcers observed in Medicare beneficiaries with neurological conditions. Secondary conditions themselves may be associated with a new set of structural/functional impairments that may or may not respond or be amenable to treatment.
Ultimately, in order to support a hospice plan of care, the combined effects of the primary neurological condition and any identified secondary condition(s) should be such that most beneficiaries with the identified impairments would have a prognosis of six months or less.
The significance of a given comorbid condition is best described by defining the structural/functional impairments - together with any limitation in activity and restriction in participation - related to the comorbid condition. For example, a beneficiary with a primary neurological condition such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and a comorbidity of COPD could have specific COPD-related structural and functional impairments of respiration (e.g., structural impairments of the bronchoalveolar tree resulting in increased respiratory rate, cough and impaired gas exchange) that contribute to the activity limitations and participation restrictions already present due to the respiratory muscle weakness often observed with ALS.
Such a combination could affect the palliative care plan by contributing to the individual’s dyspnea and impaired exercise tolerance. Further description/documentation using the activities and participation component of the ICF (e.g., mobility, self-care, and interpersonal interactions and relationships), would help complete the clinical picture. Palliative care aimed at relieving the dyspnea and improving the individual’s health status would be the goal.
Ultimately, in order to support a hospice plan of care, the combined effects of the primary neurologic condition and any identified comorbid condition(s) should be such that most beneficiaries with the identified impairments would have a prognosis of six months or less. The documentation of structural/functional impairments, together with the observed activity limitations, facilitate the selection of the most appropriate intervention strategies (palliative/hospice vs. long-term disease management) and provide objective criteria for determining the effects of such interventions. The documentation of these variables is thus essential in the determination of reasonable and necessary Medicare Hospice Services.