Why Palliative Care Needs to Become More Accessible in the US, Around Globe

The United States is advanced in its access to palliative care, but there’s still a lot of room to grow for home health providers, according to a recent report published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

The report says that the burden of serious health-related suffering will almost double by 2060, due to a rapidly increasing elder population and the prevalence of chronic health conditions. Because of that, an emphasis on palliative care needs to be made as demand goes up, even for countries leading in the industry like the United States.

More and more patients prefer to age in place, and there’s a large community of people who could benefit from palliative care to avoid spending their last days in pain or discomfort. Considering over 20% of the U.S. population will be over 65 by 2030, palliative, in-home care could be a catalyst for reduced spending.

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Of those that would benefit from palliative care in the U.S., 60% don’t receive it, according to another report from the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst Insights Council.

Many notable at-home care organizations have recognized this lack of access as a problem and have invested in palliative care and medicine, sometimes referred to as comfort medicine. For instance, Holmdel, New Jersey-based Visiting Nurse Association Health Group received a $2.5 million grant from the Parker Foundation in January to continue building out its home-based primary care and palliative medicine offerings.

Palliative care is growing into such an industry, in fact, that some believe it will surpass the currently booming hospice space in the near future.

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“I actually think over time the palliative care industry is going to far surpass the hospice industry in size. That’s my personal belief,” Denis Viscek, CFO of California-based Hospice Bay the Bay, recently told Home Health Care News sister site Hospice News. “That may take 10 or 20 years, but I really believe that is the new way.”

More resources dedicated towards palliative care in the home would likely mean less hospital visits and less suffering for patients near the end of their lives. There’s often a problematic gap that exists between when patients begin to experience that suffering and when they receive care to ease it, such as hospice. Palliative care can offer that bridge to a plethora of Americans.

The United States was a part of the meager 15% of 198 countries included in the report that were at an “advanced stage of integration” in palliative care, which was the highest of six categories. The majority of the countries included in that category were located in Europe.

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Still, 80% of the people who do not have access to appropriate palliative care reside in middle to low-income countries. 

“Palliative care ‘resolutions’ continue to appear from global health organizations, policymakers and activists but progress towards universal palliative care coverage is hugely constrained,” the report said.

Additional reporting by Jim Parker

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