Knowledge about Palliative Care Found Lacking


Palliative care is an effort to improve the quality of life for people undergoing medical treatment, and it’s not the same as hospice care, which is provided near the end of life. But most Americans are unclear on what palliative care is, according to results of a survey published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

“A common misconception is that palliative care is only for end-of-life care when, in fact, it can begin at any point in the disease course,” said Motolani Ogunsanya, PhD, an assistant professor at The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. 

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life for patients and caretakers by addressing the physical, psychological, and logistical challenges associated with a disease or its treatment. In contrast to hospice, which provides comfort care for patients who have stopped treatment and are near the end of life, palliative care serves as an adjunct to life-sustaining treatments by addressing the side effects of treatment or symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Ogunsanya and colleagues analyzed data from a National Cancer Institute’s Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) of adult Americans from 2018 to study public knowledge of palliative care.  Respondents described their knowledge of palliative care by selecting “I’ve never heard of it,” “I know a little bit about palliative care,” or “I know what palliative care is, and I could explain it to someone else.” The first two responses were grouped together as inadequate knowledge, and the final response was considered adequate knowledge.

Of 3,450 respondents, only 11 percent reported adequate knowledge of palliative care. Women and married individuals were twice as likely to have adequate knowledge when compared with men and single respondents, respectively. Those who had a college degree were over 13-times more likely to have adequate knowledge of palliative care compared with respondents without a high school degree.

People who had a regular source of medical care were 2.67-times more likely to have adequate knowledge of palliative care than those without regular medical care. In addition, respondents who had a diagnosis of cancer were 51 percent more likely to have adequate knowledge of palliative care than those who had never been diagnosed with cancer. Dr. Ogunsanya noted that this might be due to the increased engagement patients with cancer have with the healthcare system.

“Since healthcare providers are often the first and most trusted source of healthcare information, educating physicians on palliative care and encouraging them to discuss it with their patients and caretakers is one potential strategy to increase understanding of palliative care,” Dr. Ogunsanya noted. She added that addressing additional barriers to palliative care, such as 

misconceptions and lack of resources or time, are also important approaches to increasing awareness.