What is Palliative Care?

  • Palliative care focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress and mental stress of a serious illness — whatever the diagnosis.
  • It is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses that coordinates and supports the management of curative medicine.
  • The goal of palliative care is to prevent and relieve suffering and to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
“Unlike hospice care, palliative care can be provided at the same time as disease-directed treatments; it is appropriate at any age and at any stage of a serious illness.”1

Illness Progression Chart


Why is Palliative Care Important?

Millions of Americans live with serious illnesses such as cancer,  heart disease, frailty, functional dependency and/or dementia. 2

  • This number is expected to increase over the next 25 years as the baby boomer generation reaches old age. 1

We can and should do better by these patients, and palliative care is a proven solution to address these gaps in the system.

  • Timely palliative care consultations have been shown to improve the quality of care, reduce overall costs and sometimes increase longevity. 3,4
  • In every setting in which it has been tested, palliative care improves care quality for the sickest and most vulnerable patients across all diseases. 4

People want palliative care2

  • Once informed about what palliative care is, the overwhelming majority of people report that they would want it for themselves and their families.6

Our health system often fails to assess and respond to the top concerns of patients and families.2

  • Patients with serious illness report significant and untreated pain and other symptoms, and high levels of depression, anxiety and worry about the future.
  • Care provided to patients is often not coordinated nor comprehensive.
  • Patients and families are often unable to get clear answers from their providers and have no place to turn other than 911 when crises arise.
  • Precious time that should be spent at home with loved ones is lost in waiting rooms, hospital beds and emergency departments.


Limited number of physicians trained in palliative medicine is a key issue in patients not having access to palliative care.

Palliative medicine is the fastest-growing medical specialty in the US, as payers, providers and policymakers recognize its potential to improve quality and, as a direct result of improved quality, reduce costs.

  • Almost 90 percent of large U.S. hospitals (300 beds or more) now have a palliative care program.

Growing demand, limited supply.  A major barrier facing the expansion of palliative care services is the lack of palliative medicine physicians.

Much more is needed. Millions of Americans with serious illness do not yet have access to palliative care from the point of diagnosis throughout the course of an illness.

  • Availability is highly variable by region and by state.
  • Even in those hospitals that report palliative care services, only a small fraction of the patients that could benefit receive palliative care.
  • Many programs remain too understaffed and under resourced to reach all the patients in need.


One MD for every...

  • Source for slide: Morrison, R.S., Meier, D.E., America’s Care of Serious Illness, 2015 State-by-State Report Care on Access to Palliative Care in our Nations Hospitals. https://reportcard.capc.org/
  • *Serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, frailty, functional dependency and/or dementia (source: https://reportcard.capc.org/)

  • 1Morrison, R.S., Meier, D.E., America’s Care of Serious Illness, 2015 State-by-State Report Care on Access to Palliative Care in our Nations Hospitals. https://reportcard.capc.org/
  • 2Center to Advance Palliative Care. Improving Care for People with Serious Illness through Innovative Payer-Provider Partnerships.
    https://media.capc.org/filer_public/0f/2f/0f2f8662-15cf-4680-baa8-215dd97fbde6/payer-providertoolkit-2015.pdf
  • 3Temel JS, Greer JA, Muzikansky A, et al. Early palliative care for patients with metastatic non–small-cell lung cancer. N Engl J Med 2010;363:733-42.
  • 4Morrison RS, Dietrich J, Ladwig S, et al. Palliative care consultation teams cut hospital costs for Medicaid beneficiaries. Health Aff (Millwood) 2011;30:454-63.
  • 5Smith S, Brick A, O’Hara S, Normand C. Evidence on the cost and cost-effectiveness of palliative care: a literature review. Palliat Med. 2014 Feb;28(2):130-50.
  • 62011 Public Opinion Research on Palliative Care: A Report Based on Research by Public Opinion Strategies, April 2011. Available at capc.org.Source for slide: Morrison