Demographics Impact Patient Perceptions of Palliative Care

Misconceptions about the nature of palliative care continue to proliferate among the U.S. population, with patient demographics among the factors that influence those beliefs, new research has found.

Hospice providers nationwide are increasingly diversifying their service lines to include palliative care, but lack of awareness and poor understanding among prospective patients are a major barrier to growth.

Researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., recently analyzed data from the 2018 Health Information National Trends Survey, which measures public knowledge of cancer-related information, to identify patterns of beliefs related to palliative care and whether those beliefs are influenced by sociodemographic differences or information sources.


“Six in every 10 American adults knowledgeable about palliative care have at least one documented misperception, with differential beliefs by sociodemographic groups. Source of information had little impact on palliative care beliefs,” authors Brian Cheng, Tenzin Wangmo and Joshua House wrote in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. “These findings may help focus future measures to educate the public about the role of palliative care in health care and address gaps in knowledge.”

One of the most prevalent misconceptions about palliative care is that it is synomynous with hospice; more than 42% of the patients included in the study reported that they automatically thought of death when they heard the term “palliative care.” More than 15% said they associated palliative care with “giving up,” and about 14% mistakenly believed that patients must cease curative treatment in order to be eligible to recieve palliative care.

Perceptions among the respondents varied according to age, race, education level, income level and marital status, according to the authors. Each of the respondents had indicated that they perceived themselves as being knowledgeable about palliative care.


Home-based palliative care could reduce societal health care costs by $103 billion within the next 20 years, the nonprofit economic research group Florida TaxWatch said in a report.

Palliative care in general can reduce health care costs by more than $4,000 per patient, according to a July 2017 study in Health Affairs. It can also reduce the frequency of 911 calls, emergency department visits, and unnecessary hospitalizations.Close to 60% of patients who would benefit from palliative care do not receive those services, despite the availability of community-based palliative care as well as hospital-based palliative care, according to a recent report from the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst Insights Council.

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