When facing a serious or complex illness, patients and their loved ones want to know they are getting the best care possible. They want a plan that is geared to achieve their treatment goals, whatever they may be, and one that will maximize their comfort while those goals are pursued. Developing such a plan can be challenging in any environment, but it is especially so where multiple health care providers are involved in making treatment decisions for a variety of different and sometimes competing problems. Communication between providers can sometimes be spotty, or worse, and patients can be left out of the treatment decision-making process entirely. This can have a substantial negative impact on a patient’s quality of life and that’s not good for anyone.
However a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine revealed that early palliative care consultations, addressed this issue and greatly improved patient outcomes. Not only that, it reduced costs associated with hospital stays by over $3,000. Palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach to pain and symptom management which brings the patient and his health care providers into the treatment decision-making process together.
While it makes sense that an additional layer of care might benefit seriously ill patients, is seems counter intuitive that it would also reduce costs. It’s a true win-win. The study adds to a growing body of research demonstrating the substantial benefits palliative care provides for patients and the health care system.
While the study does not specifically identify why palliative care works in the ways it does, the findings are consistent with experiences in health care institutions elsewhere around the world. Countries such as New Zealand and Australia have successfully integrated palliative care strategies into their treatment programs. In the U.S. as well, there is a growing awareness that palliative care is good for patients and good for those who pay for their care. So now we are beginning to see a change in the way health care is delivered to seriously ill patients. But it’s just a start. Continuing to expand the scope of the early palliative care paradigm will require more research and education, as well as incentives for health care providers to develop and implement palliative care protocols in their practices. Hopefully, the inertia will continue building so we can maximize good outcomes – good form the patient’s perspective