Palliative medicine on the rise

After years of obscurity, palliative medicine is on the upswing, gaining new respect from hospitals and physicians. Growing numbers of medical centers offer palliative services, which focus on relieving symptoms and boosting quality of life for seriously ill patients. According to the Center to Advance Palliative Care, the number of medical centers offering palliative medicine has climbed to 1,240, about one-third of U.S. hospitals. Programs are in place at such high-profile venues as Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Palliative specialists serve as case managers and family outreach workers, coordinating care and helping families cope with their loved ones' illness. The specialists typically work as part of a team including physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical and occupational therapists; the emphasis is on setting specific goals and coordinating care.

While many of these services are offered by hospice centers, patients receiving palliative care may live for years, while hospice patients typically have only months to live. Not only do such services improve patient and family morale, they save money. According to one study done in 2003, moving a patient to a palliative care unit can cut costs by 57 percent, part because the unit can calm patients and families and help the patient avoid additional hospitalizations.

To learn more about palliative care:
- read this USA Today piece