…training physicians in medical school about empathy, prevention and relief of suffering, and personal fears related to mortality, is the most important step to inspiring a shift in society’s perception of palliative care…
Bill Frist, heart and lung transplant surgeon and former US Senator, begins his call to action with the World Health Organization’s definition of Palliative care:
“improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual.”
The barriers to societal understanding of palliative care relate largely to the conversations had by lawmakers and health care providers. While the data exists to show that palliative care is effective and saves people money, those who are insured and Medicare beneficiaries are often only afforded the choice between curative care and hospice. Frist argues that important conversations regarding palliative care must be fact-based and refrain from becoming weighted with suspicions about physicians’ morality, “rationing” health care, and other fears about misappropriated “cost-saving”.
As a physician, Frist has developed an understanding of the suffering of patients, especially those afforded limited choices regarding their own pain, life-limiting diagnosis, and death. As a student and practicing physician through the 1980’s, Frist understood that health care had to either be successfully curative or it was a failure. Little to no training was provided then for students to meet the diverse needs and wishes of patients nearing the end of their lives. Now, Frist states that training physicians in medical school about empathy, prevention and relief of suffering, and personal fears related to mortality, is the most important step to inspiring a shift in society’s perception of palliative care as one important option available for extending quality-of-life.