Scope of palliative care widens amid workforce shortage

As more patients use hospital palliative care services, a workforce shortage may prevent adequate access to palliative care, reported Stateline, the news service for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

With only one palliative care doctor for every 1,300 patients with a serious illness, the healthcare industry needs up to 18,000 more palliative care doctors to meet demand, according to the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Workforce Task Force.

These specialty physicians work in care teams composed of doctors, nurses and social workers, and sometimes massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists and chaplains, reported Seacoast Online.

But the limited palliative care workforce may be further strained by legislation that aims to expand access to such services, according to Stateline. New York last year passed a law that requires all patients with advanced illnesses be informed of and have access to palliative care. Other states including Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Arkansas and Michigan are mulling similar legislation.

Meanwhile, the scope of palliative care has widened beyond end-of-life care to include cancer, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, AIDS and Alzheimer's, noted Seacoast.

Despite efforts to expand scope and access to programs, the shortage of palliative care providers is likely to continue thanks in part to low reimbursement rates, according to Stateline.

On the bright side, palliative care programs lead to lower patient costs. For example,  at Kaiser Permanente, average costs for palliative care patients with cancer were 35 percent lower than for usual-care patients, 67 percent lower for palliative care patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 52 percent lower for palliative care patients with congestive heart failure, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

For more:
- read the Stateline article
- here's the Seacoast article