Knocking Down Obstacles to Palliative Care Expansion

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Karen Utterback By Karen Utterback 
Former Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, McKesson (Retired)

Knocking Down Obstacles to Palliative Care ExpansionPalliative care continues to be misunderstood by patients and, in some cases, healthcare executives. And since it’s a relatively new medical discipline, there are far fewer palliative care specialists than patients who need them.

That confusion and shortage are unfortunate, since palliative care has been proven to reduce ED visits, improve overall care and drive down healthcare costs. A December 2013 report from the Journal of Palliative Medicine outlined the benefits and called for policies that remove the numerous obstacles to more widespread implementation.

  • Given that there is only one palliative care doctor per 1,300 patients with a serious condition, more physician training programs are needed. The report authors suggest incorporating palliative care and geriatric principals into other providers’ training as well.
  • Healthcare executives should look at scaling up existing successful palliative care models.
  • Current palliative care quality measures tend to be narrow and discount patients with multiple chronic conditions and should be reevaluated.
  • Accountable care organizations and other models resulting from healthcare reform should be seen as fertile ground for incorporating palliative care programs and testing various scenarios.

The report contends that those involved with palliative care should continue their education efforts, helping lawmakers, executives and patients fully understand the benefits of palliative care and how it differs from hospice. They won’t be alone — several groups called for the expansion of palliative care last year, including researchers at the University of California’s LA Department of Urology who looked at how patient-centered end-of-life care adheres to values expressed by the individual.

The University of California Medical Centers is also active in this area, integrating palliative care into ICUs across UC Health. The organization is focused on transforming healthcare so that it improves the quality of care, the efficiency of care and population health, according to Terry Leach, executive director of the UC Center for Health Quality and Innovation. For these reasons, Leach said she can’t think of a better example to improve care to the seriously ill.

It’s one of the better ideas I’ve heard, too.

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