Palliative care in hospitals continues rapid growth for 10th straight year

Palliative care in U.S. hospitals has increased for the tenth consecutive year, according to a new analysis released today by the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC). The number of hospitals with a palliative care team increased from 658 (24.5%) to 1,568 (63.0%)–a steady 138.3% increase from 2000-2009.

Palliative care is specialized medical care focused on relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of serious illness -- whatever the diagnosis. The overriding goal is to improve quality of life for both patient and family. Palliative care can be provided alongside curative treatment and is appropriate at any age and any stage of a serious illness.

The steady growth of palliative care has been primarily in response to the increasing number and needs of Americans living with serious and chronic illness. Approximately ninety million Americans are living with serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, stroke and Alzheimer's. This number is expected to more than double over the next twenty-five years with the aging of baby boomers.

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Also contributing to the rise of palliative care in this country are the overwhelming realities of caregiving faced by patients' families. In the practice of palliative care, these challenges are addressed through a strong partnership of patient, family and palliative care team.

"Palliative care teams are transforming the care of serious illness in this country because they address the fragmentation of the healthcare system and put control and choice back in the hands of the patient and family," said Diane E. Meier, M.D., director of the non-profit Center to Advance Palliative Care. "Hospitals today recognize that palliative care is the key to delivering better quality, coordinated care to our sickest and most vulnerable patients."

Key Findings

  • More hospitals across the country have programs than ever before.
  • The Northeast shows the highest prevalence—73% of hospitals with 50 or more beds.
  • The South shows the lowest prevalence—51% of hospitals with 50 or more beds.
  • Large hospitals (300 or more beds) are more likely to provide palliative care—85% -- as compared to mid-size hospitals (50-299 beds) which show 54% or small hospitals (fewer than 50 beds) which show 22%.

The new analysis was conducted in conjunction with the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC). The primary source of hospital data used for the analysis was the American Hospital Association (AHA) Annual Survey Database™ for fiscal years 2000 through 2009.

Growth Likely to Continue

Despite the surge in the growth of palliative care, according to new public opinion research conducted by the national polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, 70% of the public are not at all knowledgeable about it. Yet once informed about palliative care consumers are extremely positive about it and want access to palliative care if they need it:

  • 95% of respondents agree that it is important that patients with serious illness and their families be educated about palliative care.
  • 92% of respondents say they would be likely to consider palliative care for a loved one if they had a serious illness.
  • 92% of respondents say it is important that palliative care services be made available at all hospitals for patients with serious illness and their families.

"These are extremely high numbers by any polling standard," said pollster Bill McInturff, partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies.

Poll data also shows that once informed, feelings about palliative care are positive regardless of political party affiliation. The poll was conducted in May 2011.

The Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) ( and and the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC) ( are affiliated with Mount Sinai School of Medicine and are dedicated to increasing quality palliative care services for people facing serious illness.