Integrating Palliative Care into Oncology Practice

Topics: Oncology, Service Lines, Palliative Care, Methodologies, Performance Improvement

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After reading this study, members will understand:

  • The benefits of palliative care for patients, families and providers
  • The complexities of palliative care finances
  • How to design, finance, staff, and grow a palliative care program
  • How to build physician support for a palliative care program
  • The increasing importance of palliative care under accountable care payment models

Executive Summary

A growing sense of urgency

While the oncology community has long recognized the importance of palliative care, a 2010 New England Journal of Medicine study reignited interest in the topic. The study, a randomized controlled trial that enrolled 151 late-stage non-small cell lung cancer patients, found that patients who received palliative care consults shortly after diagnosis lived approximately three months longer than patients who received only “usual care.”

These findings are merely the latest in a growing body of research documenting that palliative care:

  • Reduces patients’ symptom burden
  • Lowers depression rates
  • Increases patient and family satisfaction
  • Helps patients feel more informed about how to manage their symptoms and more confident in their ability to access care

These findings have fueled the push to expand palliative care programs and ensure patients are able to access the service early in their course of care.

Palliative care graphic

Three challenges to program development

Unfortunately, cancer program leaders seeking to establish or expand palliative care services encounter many obstacles, including:

  • Misconceptions about palliative care. Many patients, families, and even clinicians confuse palliative care with end-of-life care, complicating efforts to give patients timely access to the service.
  • Insufficient reimbursement. Under current payment models, revenues generated by billing for palliative care services are insufficient to offset program costs.
  • Entrenched practice patterns. Integrating palliative care into routine cancer care requires a fundamental shift in clinicians’ attitudes and practice patterns.

Palliative care taking on new importance under accountable care

As providers transition to new accountable care payment models, palliative care will become a critical strategy for improving patient outcomes and promoting more appropriate utilization of health care services. At least one study has demonstrated that palliative care can be a powerful mechanism for reducing avoidable hospitalizations and emergency department visits.

Profiles to support your efforts

Building a successful palliative care program hinges not only on designing the right program infrastructure but also building trusting, collaborative relationships with clinicians. To assist in this effort, this study profiles leading institutions that have successfully established palliative care programs and provides lessons for integrating palliative care into oncology practice.

Members, download the study to learn more

Oncology Roundtable members can download the full study to access this research.

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