In recent article, Lydia Zuraw reports on the disconnect between the supply of palliative care specialists and the demand for these services. Citing a recent assessment of the shortfall as determined by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, the article notes a need of as many as 18,000 physicians focused on palliative care and hospice care. Palliative care, which is increasingly viewed as a best practice, is becoming more widely used in the health care system. The article notes several possible explanations for the shortfall, including requirements that slow certification, lower salaries for professionals who choose certain specialties, and the need to use nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants more effectively in these roles.
“There have to be more people for whom this is a specialty,” says Dr. Thomas Smith, director of palliative medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “If you don’t have enough people to be out there practicing and showing people a better way to communicate, a better way to relieve pain, a better way to help people’s distress, it won’t happen.”
Patients with many kinds of illness — from chronic to life-ending — can turn to palliative care for help with symptoms. The specialty also spans psychological counseling, help with family conflicts and spiritual support.