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Physicians Call for Greater Access to Palliative Care

hospice palliative careMore than 1.5 million patients received hospice care last year.  But palliative care providers are concerned that one-third of those patients died within seven days of admission.

“While many dying Americans are opting for hospice care at the end of their lives, far too many receive care for a week or less,” said J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). “We need to reach patients earlier in the course of their illness to ensure they receive the full benefits that hospice and palliative care can offer.”

The Institute of Medicine defines palliative care as “care that provides relief from pain and other symptoms, that supports quality of life, and that is focused on patients with serious advanced illness and their families.” In a recent report, the IOM recommended greater access to advance care planning and palliative care services.

“While the clinical fields of hospice and palliative care have become more established, the number of specialists in these fields is too small,” according to an IOM committee.  “A patient-centered, family oriented approach to care near the end of life should be a high national priority.”

The study found that two-thirds of all hospice care in 2013 was provided in the home, which may have been the patient’s private residence, a nursing home, or a residential facility. The remainder occurred in acute care or inpatient facilities. About 84 percent of all hospice patients were ages 65 or older.  Less than one percent were younger than 35 years old.

Cancer accounted for the most illness in hospice care with 36.5 percent of patients, followed by dementia (15.2%), heart disease (13.4%) and lung disease (9.9%). While many patients died within one week of beginning palliative care, the median was 18.5 days.

“There’s a common misconception that hospice care is giving up,” said Schumacher. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. Hospice provides high quality medical care and services from an interdisciplinary team of professionals and trained volunteers that maximizes quality of life and makes the wishes of the patient a priority.”

-Alan Lyndon, PND

(Photo by Erik Söderström via Flickr)

One comment

  1. It is always a hard thing when you need to get hospice care for one of your family members. While the hospice workers are great and dedicated, it is true that there simply are not enough of them and there is a lot of work for the family to do. My grandmother had Alzheimers for the last seven years of her life, and it was a great commitment for me and my family to take care of her.

    Yvon Lebras

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