Baby boomers have never needed more care to ease their pain and suffering. But there simply aren’t enough specialists to get the job done.
There’s of as many as 18,000 physicians focused on palliative care and hospice care. Right now, there are 5,150 hospice programs and 1,635 hospital palliative care teams in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.
That means there’s specialist for every 20,000 older adults living with a severe chronic illness.
Patients with many kinds of illness — from chronic to life-ending — can turn to palliative care for help with symptoms.
Smith says that giving palliative care alongside usual care is now the accepted best practice. “You can show that people live longer, people probably do live better, and their relatives — if they happen to die — do a lot better if you get palliative care involved,” he says. “If you have these conversations, people are less distressed and less depressed.”
The case for expanding palliative care is now clear, advocates say, especially for difficult cases. “We’re going have to pay attention to the most expensive patients and our previous structure has basically rewarded doctors for just doing more and more and more and more stuff,” Storey says. “We’ve now got very good research to show that just doing more procedures and tests on people in their final months of life isn’t better. They don’t live longer, they’re not more comfortable and often the opposite is true.”