Joint Commission: Palliative care should be open to all; first certifications announced

As interest in palliative care grows among the public and the healthcare profession, The Joint Commission has acknowledged the field's importance by creating a new recognition program. Hospitals that demonstrate a focus on patient-centered inpatient care during all stages of a serious illness can now apply to receive The Joint Commission's Advanced Certification for Palliative Care.

The Joint Commission yesterday announced its first palliative care certifications to five hospitals: Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn.; Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y.; Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City; St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Mich.; and Connecticut Hospice, Inc., in Branford.

Palliative care is the field of medicine dedicated to improving patients' quality of life by focusing on pain control, symptom management and stress relief. This treatment model is designed for patients of all ages at any stage of a serious illness.

Michele Sacco, executive director of palliative care certification at The Joint Commission, hopes the certification program will clear up some misconceptions about palliative care while inspiring hospitals to formalize policies for good care they may be providing already.

"Palliative care is not synonymous with hospice care for the terminally ill," Sacco told FierceHealthcare. "We think hospitals should make palliative care available to any patient with any diagnosis of a serious illness, regardless of prognosis." Even providers may not always understand the distinction between palliative care and hospice, though awareness is growing, she said.

According to David Eickemeyer, associate director of certification at The Joint Commission, hospital interest in palliative care certification has been high. "We thought the program would take longer than it did to launch, but these five hospitals could receive certification quickly because they have been doing palliative care for a long time," he said in a FierceHealthcare interview.

At Regions Hospital, the palliative care program started in 2005 as an outgrowth of the hospital's hospitalist program. "We developed a systematic but compassionate strategy for the many patients coming in with significant morbidity," Jim Risser, medical director of the Regions palliative care team, told FierceHealthcare. "We felt good about our program and now have had that confirmed by the Joint Commission's outside review."

The Joint Commission has 21 palliative care applications in house from 13 different states, Eickemeyer said. Additionally, he expects 20 more applications in April as part of a Livestrong Foundation grant program that will offer financial assistance to applicants. He estimates that more than 1600 U.S. hospitals currently have palliative care programs.

For more information:
- read the Joint Commission's announcement
- see the Joint Commissions certification requirements (.pdf)
- check out the Livestrong Foundation's grant program