Everyone should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their healthcare, especially at the end of life. We all need to know how a particular treatment might impact quality of life. If I have stage 4 cancer, how will an aggressive round of chemotherapy impact me? What if I take measures to manage the symptoms and utilize comfort care?
One critical part of the process that can help us navigate between these two options is palliative care. It helps to ease the discomfort of an advanced illness while balancing it with curative treatments. The challenge is that many people do not know about palliative care, doctors receive little training in this approach, and the medical education system is not equipped to train enough healthcare professionals to accommodate our nation’s aging population.
On Capitol Hill the House heard HR 3119 – The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) that can help more Americans access palliative care. This bipartisan bill has been sponsored by Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Tom Reed (R-NY). Compassion & Choices has endorsed this bill. Since the hearing, PCHETA has gained 200 co-sponsors (118 Democrats, 82 Republicans), and support is growing!
The bill helps people with advanced illness by improving access to palliative care. It increases the number of permanent faculty in palliative care, makes funding palliative care an NIH priority and develops a national awareness campaign to support palliative care.
PCHETA is important because many Americans don’t know about palliative options. A recent survey showed that almost 70% of respondents had no knowledge of palliative care. According to Dr. Sean Morrison at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, when people hear what palliative care does, more than 90% of the respondents stated that they would want it for themselves or their family member, and that it should be universally available.
Improving access to palliative care and patient awareness of it can help prevent unwanted medical treatment and empower patients. The PCHETA helps bridge the gap between the care people want and what they get. The hearing and research points out that palliative care can improve quality of life, and some instances actually extend it.