In 2014 the World Health Organization called for palliative care to be integrated as an essential element of the health care continuum. Yet in 2017 US palliative care services are found largely in hospitals, and hospice care, which is delivered primarily in the home, is limited to people who are dying soon. The majority of Americans with a serious illness are not dying; are living at home, in assisted living facilities, or in nursing homes; and have limited access to palliative care. Most health care providers lack knowledge about and skills in pain and symptom management, communication, and care coordination, and both the public and health professionals are only vaguely aware of the benefits of palliative care and how and when to access it. The lack of policy supports for palliative care contributes to preventable suffering and low-value care. In this article we outline the need for a national palliative care strategy to ensure reliable access to high-quality palliative care for Americans with serious medical illnesses. We review approaches employed by other countries, list the participants needed to develop and implement an actionable strategy, and identify analogous US national health initiatives to inform a process for implementing the strategy.
Keywords: national strategy; palliative care; serious illness.
Project HOPE—The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.