What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care provides those with a serious or chronic illness – from the time of diagnosis throughout the course of treatment – care that optimizes quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and managing suffering. It is delivered by an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and other practitioners to address the physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of patients and their families.
What Does Palliative Care Do?
- Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms.
- Enhances quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness.
- Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care.
- Uses an interdisciplinary team approach to address the needs of patients and their families. This typically includes a physician, nurse, social worker, pharmacist, chaplain and others as needed.
- Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible throughout the course of an illness.
- Offers a support system to help loved ones cope with stress during the patients’ illness and in their own bereavement.
- Is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to cure an illness or prolong life, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgical procedures, etc.
- Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process.
Who Needs Palliative Care?
Any one of the millions suffering from a chronic illness would benefit from ongoing palliative care to enhance their quality of life.
About half of all Americans live with at least one chronic illness and that number is projected to increase by more than one percent per year by 2030. Sixty percent are between the ages of 18 and 64.
In California alone, 14 million residents of all ages live with at least one chronic condition. This represents 38 percent of the state’s population, and more than half of this group is living with multiple chronic conditions. Typical chronic diseases include chronic pain, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.
These chronic conditions increase in severity, frequency, and complexity with age. Nine in 10 Americans over the age of 65 suffer from at least one chronic disease, with 77 percent contending with two or more conditions.
Who Provides Palliative Care?
Palliative care is provided by interdisciplinary teams comprised of physicians, nurses, social workers, and spiritual counselors as well as pharmacists and other health professionals according to the needs of the patient and family.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of hospitals offering palliative care nationally tripled to more than 1,800. However, access to palliative care is still uneven. For instance, of California’s 356 acute care hospitals surveyed in 2017 by the California Health Care Foundation,1 202 or only about 57 percent had palliative care teams in place, reaching only about 52 percent of the patients in need of palliative care services. Community-based palliative care services in the state doubled between 2014 and 2017, totaling 380 programs, but these services still are only reaching about 40 percent of patients in need. The picture nationally is much the same: most major urban areas offer many services and choices; whereas rural and frontier areas offer very few.
- Palliative Care in California: Narrowing the Gap: Issue brief and interactive maps describe capacity of palliative care programs in 2017. California Health Care Foundation, 2018.
To find out about palliative care teams in your community, search the the Palliative Care Provider Directory of Hospitals, an online resource provided by the Center to Advance Palliative Care. The directory is based upon the American Hospital Association (AHA) Annual Survey Database™ and the National Palliative Care Registry™.