Medical professionals see firsthand the difficulties chronically ill patients face. Maybe it involves figuring out what foods their stomach can tolerate or how to manage painful side effects from a treatment. Maybe it means confronting the mental health impact of a serious illness or finding the right words to explain their disease to their family or children. These new hurdles can add further stress to an already seriously ill patient, when they should be focusing on taking care of themselves. That’s why the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), along with its partners, worked with state lawmakers this year to pass legislation to expand West Virginians’ access to palliative care.
Palliative care is currently one of the fastest-growing specialties in health care, in which a team of doctors and other health care specialists add an extra layer of care to a patient’s treatment. Providers such as a social worker, dietician or chaplain work together to help manage symptoms and side effects, focus on a patient’s goals and assist family members with their own needs. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is appropriate at any age and any stage of serious, long-term illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis. While hospice care focuses on end-of-life care, palliative care can be provided alongside curative treatment.
Palliative care has been proven to not only boost patient satisfaction and quality of life, but also save patients the added stress and costs of unnecessary care. Palliative care patients are more likely to avoid expensive emergency room visits or hospitalizations by having their symptoms managed as they arise.
Over the past year, ACS CAN and other patient advocacy groups voiced their support for legislation to improve palliative care access. This legislation passed and was signed into law by the Governor in March of this year. This legislation will establish a palliative care advisory council, which will bring together experts to address barriers to this important type of treatment and identify innovative solutions for West Virginians. This council will emphasize provider training, patient awareness and overall access to palliative care.
Furthermore, ACS CAN is working on the federal level on the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act. This bipartisan bill would increase federal research funding for palliative care, including symptom and pain management, and would establish palliative care education and training programs for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. It would also create a national public education and awareness campaign to educate patients and providers about the availability and benefits of palliative care.
No one with a chronic illness should feel alone or overwhelmed by their disease. Palliative care is the best way we can help West Virginian families get the extra helping hand they need and make today better for patients.
To learn more about ACS CAN and our efforts around palliative care visit ACSCAN.org
Juliana Frederick Curry
West Virginia Government Relations Director
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network