The benefits of a combined palliative care and population health approach

Combining approaches from palliative care and population health may improve care quality for elderly and frail patients, a pair of doctors suggest in a JAMA Viewpoints article.

David Casarett, M.D., director of hospice and palliative care for the University of Pennsylvania Health System, and Joan Teno, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Washington's Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence, write that each discipline can learn from the other. Population health is focused on reducing harm and avoiding death, so incorporating elements of palliative care could ensure more frank decisions about end-of-life care and open the door for strategies that expand population health interventions to improving the well-being of patients after an illness has been diagnosed.

Incorporating the more social aspects of palliative care--a focus on emotional well-being, caregiver burdens and bereavement--can also be beneficial, according to the article. "This more inclusive approach complements the traditional emphasis of population health on reducing morbidity and avoiding mortality," the authors write.

Palliative care, on the other hand, could benefit from a population-based approach that would help it expand beyond its traditional inpatient and outpatient consultations, according to the authors. Palliative care specialists are in short supply, so training other healthcare professionals in the field would allow providers to meet the needs of patients and their families without relying solely on specialists. Palliative care strategies would also benefit from incorporating telehealth and ways to catch patients earlier in the course of their illnesses.

Early palliative care interventions can save money and reduce the length of patient stays, FierceHealthcare previously reported. A shift to value-based care and an increase in care coordination have helped drive interest in palliative care programs.

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