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Support services insights: How organizations are providing palliative care

By Ashley Riley

August 1, 2016

This is part of a weekly series on results from our 2015 national benchmarking survey on cancer program support services volumes, staffing, and operations.

Palliative care offers many benefits for cancer patients—it can reduce patients’ symptom burden, lower depression rates, and increase patient and family satisfaction. It also helps patients feel more informed about how to manage their symptoms and more confident in their ability to access care.

To help you learn from your peers, we surveyed more than 150 cancer programs about the types of palliative care services their institutions offer and how each service is staffed in our 2015 Support Services Volumes, Staffing, and Operations Survey.

Inpatient consultation teams the most common service with the highest volumes

Almost all cancer programs surveyed offered palliative care at their organization, with a median of two types of palliative care services offered at each institution.


Inpatient palliative care consults was by far the most common type of palliative care offering at respondent organizations. These teams also treated the highest number of patients, seeing a median of 500 patients in 2014. It is important to note that in the survey we asked for the number of patients seen by this team, and this may not reflect multiple consults for the same patient.

Teams were multidisciplinary, and typically consisted of physicians, advanced practitioners, RNs, chaplains, dieticians, social workers, and pharmacists.


Outpatient palliative care clinics less common, see fewer patients

Outpatient palliative care clinics were also fairly common—44% of respondent organizations offer this service, seeing a median of 116 patients in 2014. Again, this may not reflect multiple visits by the same patient. These clinics have a similar staffing makeup as the inpatient palliative care consultation teams, except they are less likely to have dedicated chaplains and tend to have fewer pharmacist FTEs.


With most cancer programs offering some type of palliative care service on-site, the next critical step in meeting the Commission on Cancer’s palliative care services standard is to ensure that the process for referring or providing palliative care services to patients is monitored and hardwired into providers’ practices. Stay tuned for our blog about palliative care referral patterns to learn more.

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