Why You Should Demand Palliative Care

By Annie Case

Rock Health hosted its fourth Skillshare workshop on Wednesday night, led by palliative care advocate and BeMoRe CEO Renee Berry. In the class, titled “Why You Should Demand Palliative Care,” Renee drew on her own experiences as well as extensive research to highlight palliative care as an integral part of patient-centered care.

Despite the weightiness of the topic, Renee’s energy and passion lightened up the room and enabled participants to take an active role in discussion. At one point, attendees were asked a variety of questions, like “if you had absolute control over what your last moments of life would be, what would that look like? Who would be there, where would you be, and what would you be hoping for?” in order to illustrate the point that peoples’ goals often fail to align with their realities. While 90% of people say they envision themselves dying at home surrounded by family and loved ones, in reality 80% of people in the United States die in institutions. This troubling statistic led Renee to her next main point—if you want something, advocate for it! Palliative care exists so that patients’ goals can be met, independent of the specific goals each physician specialist has for them. It exists to provide quality of life for the patient and the family and to relieve the patients’ symptoms, no matter what stage of illness they are in (this distinguishes palliative care from hospice care, which requires a prognosis of 6 months or less and the discontinuation of curative treatment). This area of care is extremely underutilized and underfunded despite estimations that full implementation  into the nation’s hospitals could reduce healthcare costs by as much as $6 billion per year while improving quality of life dramatically.

Renee left participants with a hopeful picture of the future of palliative medicine, as it is the fastest growing medical specialty in the United States and more than half of our hospitals now have palliative care programs, compared with almost none ten years ago.  In the past five years alone, access to palliative care in the nation’s hospitals has more than doubled. These promising facts suggest that this country is making strides towards more patient-centric care, but continued advocacy and education will be key in maintaining this momentum and ensuring that adequate resources are dedicated to implementing these changes.