­­The State of Palliative Care in the U.S.: A Progress Report

Russ Krengel Palliative Care

We at Kindful Hospice take our work seriously, to provide you with the best hospice and palliative care possible. In order to do that, we keep an eye on the latest research on these topics.

Beyond studying the latest breakthroughs in patient care, we’re also interested in the larger picture of what palliative care looks like in the U.S.

How many patients have access to palliative care? Where are palliative care providers located, and how many palliative care patients can be accommodated by each hospital? Answering these questions can provide important insight into how our country cares for the severely or chronically ill.

Fortunately, the Center to Advance Palliative Care has published a state-by-state report card answering all of the above questions, and then some. According to this study, the United States has made strides toward making palliative care more accessible than ever before, but we still have room to improve.

The State-by-State Report Card

What is the state-by-state report card?

America’s Care of Serious Illness: 2019 State-by-State Report Card on Access to Palliative Care in Our Nation’s Hospitals is the full title of this year’s study. By comparing the results of the 2019 study to previous ones in years 2015, 2008, and 2001, we can see how much progress our country has made in providing access to palliative care.

The study collected information about how many hospitals have palliative care teams, how large the hospitals are, where they’re located, and how many patients each one can care for. Based on this data, researchers calculated a score for each state, rating how many hospital patients have access to palliative care.

The goal, of course, is for every patient in every state to have access to palliative care. While the 2019 study shows more states earned an “A” this year than ever before, the country still has a “B” score, as a whole.

Key Findings from the 2019 Report Card

The good news is, currently 72% of hospitals with fifty or more beds in the U.S. have a palliative care team. These hospitals serve 87% of all hospitalized patients. Let’s break down the report card’s findings a bit further.

1. Most States Earned either an A or B.

An “A” grade is defined by having a palliative care team at more than 80% of the hospitals in the state. The number of hospitals with an A has risen from 17 in 2015 to 21. Currently, three quarters of states have either an A or a B.

2. Access to Palliative Care Depends on where You Live.

Hospitals in the south-central U.S. are among the lowest graded and are in need of the most improvement. Less than a third of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama hospitals have a palliative care team, and 17% of rural hospitals have a palliative care program.

Residents of urban areas are more fortunate. 90% of urban hospitals report having a palliative care team, and most hospitals in the northeast and Rocky Mountain regions have palliative care programs.

3. Tax Exempt and Large Hospitals Are More Likely to Have Palliative Care.

If a hospital is nonprofit – and therefore tax exempt – it’s more likely to have a palliative care unit. Likewise, 95% of hospitals with over 300 beds provide palliative care.

On the other hand, a third of hospitals with 50 or more beds have no palliative care unit, and a third of states in the U.S. earned a C or D grade. Oklahoma earned a D this year.

Fortunately, we have made progress since the last state-by-state report card in 2015, and we will continue to make improvements in the availability of palliative care nationwide as well as in our state.  

How Can We Improve Palliative Care in the U.S.?

Supervising organizations like the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine monitor and provide guidelines for standards of palliative care. Ongoing research from the National Palliative Care Research Center and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute continue to study treatment methods in order to improve quality of care.

Some areas for improvement include:

  • The Workforce: While over 7,500 physicians and almost 20,000 nurses specialize in palliative care, there still aren’t enough medical professionals to meet patient demand.
  • The Training: Gaps in training and accountability, as well as lack of communication between physicians, patients, and their family members are ongoing issues the palliative care community faces.
  • The Payment: Even though recent changes to Medicare have permitted increased coverage for palliative treatments, there still aren’t enough financial incentives for all patients in need of palliative care to receive what they need.

It’s up to lawmakers and healthcare organizations to address these issues, but you as a consumer can learn more about the issues affecting you and your family so you can advocate effectively.

Learn More about Palliative Care in Your Area

Kindful Hospice is dedicated to providing Oklahoma residents with quality hospice care. Reach out to us to learn more about the palliative care options in your area.