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Media Roundup: US Hospital Palliative-care Teams Suffer Staffing Gaps

Sep. 09, 2016

Reuters Health, Beckers Health, Managed Care News and FierceHealthcare covered research conducted by Healthforce Center faculty about the shortage of paid palliative-care teams available to help seriously ill patients manage pain, address emotional and spiritual needs and discuss end-of-life wishes.

The Joint Commission has recommended that palliative care teams include a doctor, a nurse, a social worker and a chaplain, yet only one-fourth of programs were found to have a complete team. Even worse, palliative care programs reached only a median of 3.4 percent of hospital patients.

“A lot of these programs are running on a shoestring,” lead author Joanne Spetz said in a telephone interview. 

She said her study was the first to mine hospital palliative-care staffing data, and she was struck by the fact that about half of the programs failed to pay for a registered nurse or a social worker.

Palliative care focuses on improving quality of life for patients with serious illnesses – including everything from cancer to heart disease – and their family caregivers. This care is provided regardless of whether the patient is expected to recover, live with the illness for an extended period of time, or is nearing the end of life.

“It’s almost a no-brainer that palliative-care services need to be provided,” Spetz said. “The evidence has been there for a decade.”

Although researchers have found that palliative-care services save money, health insurers have been slow to reimburse for them, she said.

“Spending 45 minutes with a patient to talk about their holistic needs doesn’t pay in medicine,” Spetz said.

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