Palliative care manages chronic conditions and provides comfort

Palliative care--long thought of mainly as a precursor to hospice care for patients with terminal illnesses--is not just for the dying anymore, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

Patients of all ages with chronic conditions often turn to palliative care, which helps them manage their conditions, navigate the medical system and improve their lifestyle, Diane E. Meier, director of the nonprofit Center to Advance Palliative Care, told WSJ. She said the number of programs has tripled in the past decade, with 80 percent of hospitals with 250 beds or more offering some form of palliative care.

Recognizing the growing popularity of the programs, the Hospice and Palliative Care Nurses Association and two affiliated groups recently launched a $5 million campaign to train nurses and other professionals to care for patients with serious illnesses, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Valerie Wallace, 42, who was diagnosed in November 2013 with advanced colorectal cancer that has spread to her liver, told the WSJ that palliative care helped her manage her condition and build up her strength to prepare for liver surgery and chemotherapy.

"I am too young and I have too much going on in my life and I'm not at a point where I'm going to give up," she told the publication. "Palliative care got me through to the point where we could get back on track with my original treatment plan."

A study published at the beginning of the year found that healthcare workers at six medical centers who were trained in palliative care produced better patient outcomes. And a recent report from the Institute of Medicine encouraged insurers to pay doctors to provide palliative care to patients in order to reduce unnecessary spending and lower healthcare costs, according to FierceHealthPayer.

The cost-savings benefits of palliative care were echoed by Thomas J. Smith, an oncologist and director of palliative medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, according to the WSJ. He emphasized that the increased patient satisfaction scores associated with palliative care can increase the Medicare payments hospitals receive and help facilities avoid readmission-related penalties.

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