Although the first hospital palliative care programs were slow to gain widespread acceptance, they have become increasingly common over the past decade and are now available at most U.S. hospitals.
What comprises a hospital palliative care team
Palliative care teams can include physicians, nurses, social workers, and chaplains who coordinate with patients and families to answer questions and prescribe medications to treat pain and other side effects.
According to the AP/San Francisco Chronicle, the teams can shorten hospital stays among participating patients—a cost-saving measure for the facilities because many insurance plans pay a flat rate based on treatment rather than length of stay. They are commonly used for patients with cancer, heart and liver failure, HIV/AIDS, emphysema, sickle cell anemia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A growing trend
Palliative care teams were first conceived in the 1970s but were slow to gain widespread acceptance, according to the AP/Chronicle. However, research showing widespread untreated pain at U.S. hospitals helped advocates bring the concept into the mainstream.
According to the Center to Advance Palliative Care, 1,568 U.S. hospitals—or 63%—had palliative care programs in 2009, up from just 658 such programs in 2000.
The number of palliative care programs is expected to continue to grow as they become more widely accepted, and younger physicians favor the model. However, some providers resist palliative care because they consider it "non-curative pain relief for patients destined to die" (Sedensky, AP/Chronicle, 6/4).