US Does an "OK" Job Providing Palliative Care

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According to "America’s Care of Serious Illness," America does a mediocre job caring for its sickest people.

According to “America’s Care of Serious Illness: A State-by-State Report Card on Access to Palliative Care in Our Nation’s Hospitals,” which was based on a study published in the October issue of the Journal of Palliative Medicine, “America does a mediocre job caring for its sickest people." The report awarded “A” grades to the palliative care provided in Vermont, Montana, and New Hampshire; Oklahoma, Alabama, and Mississippi received Fs.

The range of grades state-to-state earned the US a “C” overall, demonstrating the need for better implementation of palliative care programs in hospitals across the country for all specialties, although R. Sean Morrison, MD, director of the non-profit National Palliative Care Research Center and senior author of the study, said, “The good news is that hospitals nationwide have implemented palliative care programs quickly over the last six years.”

Inadequate palliative care in oncology can result in a host of negative outcomes for patients. “Without palliative care, people with serious illnesses like cancer often suffer unnecessarily from severe fatigue, pain, shortness of breath, nausea and other symptoms from their disease and treatments,” said Dr. Diane E. Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care and study co-author.

Although oncology nurses take on a great deal of responsibility for end-of-life care provided to cancer patients, in part because of their constant interaction with the patients, they are hardly to blame for the “average” palliative care provided to patients. Healthcare professionals can only do as much as they can with the resources they are provided by hospitals.

Smarter use of technology may be one way to alleviate a shortage of resources and provide better palliative care. One of our previous Web Exclusives discussed a solution devised by oncology nurses in the UK who have few palliative care consultants to assist them when providing care to patients. The nurses and their hospitals used videoconferencing to communicate with offsite palliative care consultants who would also provide education.

Based on the report card, it is clear that hospitals and healthcare professionals need to work together to come up with better and more effective ways of improving the quality of end-of-life care patients receive in US hospitals.

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