Hospitals across the nation are increasingly implementing palliative care programs to help patients manage the physical and emotional burdens of serious illnesses, but a new UGA study finds that
82 percent of the state’s hospitals do not offer palliative care services.
“Most people will have some sort of extended illness at the end of their life, and many, especially frail elders, could benefit from this type of care,” said study principal investigator Anne Glass, assistant director of the Institute of Gerontology, part of the College of Public Health. “But only 18 percent of hospitals in Georgia have palliative care programs, and the people we spoke with at more than half of the hospitals didn’t even know what palliative care was.”
Palliative care is a medical subspecialty focused on treating the pain, symptoms and stress of advanced illnesses. Glass, whose findings appear in the early online edition of the Journal of Palliative Medicine, points out that palliative care shares many of the same principles of hospice, but with notable differences.
Hospice is for people with terminal illnesses who no longer receive curative treatment and are in the last stages of life. Palliative care, on the other hand, can be offered earlier during an illness and can be delivered in conjunction with curative treatment.
Glass and co-author Molly Burgess contacted the 128 Georgia hospitals listed on the Medicare.gov website to assess whether they had a palliative care program and how closely those programs met the national palliative care consensus guidelines.
Palliative care has a long history in medicine, but only has been a formal subspecialty since 2006. The UGA researchers found that more than half (55 percent) of the hospital representatives they spoke with did not know what palliative care was. Nationwide, palliative care programs have expanded rapidly during the past decade. In Georgia, however, the percentage of hospitals offering palliative care is much lower. UGA researchers found that 17 percent of hospitals with 50 beds or more had palliative care programs in 2010, the year their survey was conducted. Only one for-profit hospital reported offering palliative care services.