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Health on the Hill: Removing Barriers to Empower Patients

By Ben Shega, Granny Cele Memorial Fellow at Compassion & Choices

Recent studies have shown that 71% of patients prefer quality treatment to life-prolonging measures as they approach the end of life. Unfortunately, patients may receive medical care that is not always beneficial and could be unwanted. Many patients may not even realize what other options they have.  Only one in three cancer patients say they are getting enough information about their treatment options. One way to  prevent unwanted and even harmful treatment is through more patient education.

Compassion & Choices supports several bills that are currently being discussed in Congress that would raise public awareness, open the channels of communication between patients and their healthcare providers, and empower patients through greater knowledge of their treatment options throughout their end-of-life care.

Perhaps the bill most focused on providing education to patients is the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY).  PCHETA has over 230 Cosponsors, in the House and Senate, from both sides of the isle. The bill aims to establish palliative care and hospice education centers to improve the preparedness of healthcare workers and students. Patients, too, will receive more information regarding palliative care. Under the bill, the Department Health and Human Services will undertake a national awareness campaign to educate the public as well as health professionals on the benefits of such care for patients with advanced illnesses.

With knowledge in hand, patients could make informed decisions about their healthcare, as Compassion & Choices advocates. PCHETA in particular seeks to increase knowledge, especially of palliative care, and enforce care-planning discussions between patients and their physicians. We think it is deplorable that only one-third of all cancer patients are getting enough information about their treatment options. We hope that PCHETA will put pressure on this deficit of care.