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When Compassion Is the Cure: Progress and Promise in Hospital-Based Palliative Care

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When Compassion Is the Cure: Progress and Promise in Hospital-Based Palliative Care

Palliative Care Program at the University of California, San Francisco, and the National Health Foundation

The number of in-hospital palliative care programs in California has grown steadily since 2007. California's acute care hospitals describe their palliative care programs in this survey.

February 2012

Palliative care programs provide patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness, and ensure that patient treatment preferences are met. Because current data show that more Californians (42%) die in a hospital than in any other setting, hospital-based palliative care programs play an important role in making certain that patients have access to appropriate care at the end of life.

To understand the state of palliative care in California's acute care hospitals, a review of hospital-based palliative care programs was conducted by the National Health Foundation and the Palliative Care Program at the University of California, San Francisco. This 2011 survey builds on findings from the 2007 survey by the same team.

Some highlights from the 361 responding hospitals:

  • Fifty-three percent have a palliative care program, up from 43% in 2007.
  • Palliative care consultation services have grown a great deal in recent years: Between 2007 and 2011, pediatric services increased by 128%, while adult services increased by 24%.
  • Every major metropolitan area in California except Los Angeles increased the number of hospital-based palliative care programs between 2007 and 2011. The percentage of Los Angeles hospitals with such programs actually decreased.
  • Nonprofit hospitals (72%) are more likely to have a palliative care program than district (21%), city/county (61%), or for-profit institutions (12%). System hospitals are almost twice as likely as nonsystem hospitals to have a program.
  • Ninety-five percent of teaching hospitals have palliative care programs.
  • Most palliative care services have modest budgets, with 60% operating on less than $300,000 annually.

Research shows that palliative care programs save hospitals money. While the percentage of hospitals with efforts to establish a palliative care program grew considerably from 4% of hospitals without palliative care in 2007 to 25% in 2011, there is still work to be done to ensure that all Californians have access to hospital-based palliative care.

The complete snapshot and the initial 2007 survey are available under Document Downloads. Also available are videos with individuals' reflections on death and dying, along with helpful resources, under the Related CHCF Page below.