America’s health care delivery system does not currently meet the needs of patients and families living with a serious illness. Our nation’s focus on disease-specific treatments, rather than on the needs of the whole person and their family, has resulted in unnecessary suffering, fragmented, burdensome—often futile—and costly interventions, untreated pain and symptoms, lengthy and repeated hospitalizations and emergency department visits, overwhelmed family caregivers, and clinician burnout. This is an unsustainable system in terms of both poor quality and high cost. Sweeping changes in standards of care for the most seriously ill are required if we are to provide appropriate and effective, value-driven care.
Palliative care is a solution. Also known as palliative medicine, palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. It is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is based on the needs of the patient, not on the patient’s prognosis. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness.
America’s Care of Serious Illness: 2019 State-by-State Report Card on Access to Palliative Care in Our Nation’s Hospitals demonstrates that access to palliative care continues to remain variable and depends more upon accidents of geography, whether a hospital is for-profit or nonprofit, and hospital size than it does upon the needs of patients living with a serious illness, and their families.
According to the 2019 report, the U.S. shows continued growth in the overall number of hospital palliative care teams: 72% of U.S. hospitals with fifty or more beds report a palliative care team. This is up from 67% in 2015, 53% in 2008, and 7% in 2001. These hospitals currently serve 87% of all hospitalized patients in the U.S., yet the overall grade for the United States in 2019 is a B, unchanged from 2015.