Aging Population Raises Need for Palliative Care
The "little-known but fast-growing field" of palliative care, which seeks to treat symptoms and improve the quality of life in patients with cancer and other serious illnesses, likely will continue to become more important as the U.S. population ages and develops more illnesses, according to experts, USA Today reports.
According to Patrick Coyne, clinical director of palliative care at the Massey Cancer Center of Virginia Commonwealth University, palliative care involves a team of physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers and others that meets weekly to coordinate care for patients with serious illnesses.
Ira Byock, director of palliative care at Dartmouth University, said, "When you are diagnosed with cancer, you need more than just the best doctors and treatments."
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the number of U.S. residents ages 65 and older will increase by 44% to 55 million by 2020, and an article published in the March issue of the Journal of Oncology Practice indicates that many of those individuals will require palliative care.
Since 2000, the number of medical centers that provide palliative care has increased to 1,240, or about 30% of hospitals, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care.
Hospitals, integrated health care systems and the Department of Veterans Affairs have invested in palliative care because the practice can reduce costs.
A study conducted in 2003 found that hospitals can reduce costs by 57% when they move patients from regular departments to palliative care units.
However, according to Thomas Smith, chair of hematology/oncology and palliative care at the Massey Cancer Center, most community doctors do not have time for group consultations and are not used to working in teams.
In addition, health insurers in many cases do not cover palliative care, USA Today reports.
Byock said, "At the moment, the whole American system works against you," adding, "That can change, and it must change. Consumers will have to demand it" (Szabo, USA Today, 4/26).