An article appearing in the March/April issue of Harvard Magazine provides interesting perspective on the recent history and future demand for the practice of palliative care. Although it is now an established specialty with an expanding presence in the US, there are still regions where access to this comfort-centered approach to treatment is limited. Demand will likely grow as baby boomers age, the number of Americans with chronic conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia) soars, and more providers in community settings, such outpatient clinics, seek to offer palliative care as well.
Addressing the shortage will require raising awareness and developing palliative-care skills among professionals and medical and nursing students. The strategies enumerated in the article include ensuring that every clinician who sees seriously ill patients learns basic palliative-care skills, such as effective doctor-patient communication and pain management, as well as perspective on when to refer more complex cases to specialists. The authors also remind that palliative care is not about dashing hopes; rather the objective is to complement the care patients are already receiving, to ease symptoms and manage pain throughout a serious illness. Read the article here.