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Can palliative care save money?

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Palliative care is for patients who are coping with the symptoms of a serious disease. 

“Difficulty breathing, pain from the tumor. Nausea. And palliative care addresses those physical symptoms,” says Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of palliative medicine at Mount Sinai who co-authored an article on palliative care in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Only about 5 percent of patients have serious illnesses, but they’re responsible for more than 50 percent of health care costs. Morrison says over the past decade, palliative care programs have grown by more than 150 percent.

He says patients getting palliative care are more involved in decisions and may avoid expensive, end-of-life procedures. Palliative caregivers are also on call. That can keep their patients out of emergency rooms.

That should be avoided because, “Once you’re into that system, you’re likely to be hospitalized, and then most likely it’s going to end up with something that’s not only expensive but is not really going to be a great experience for the patient,” says Don Taylor, a professor of public policy at Duke University. 

Taylor says more research is needed to determine just how much money palliative care could save, and he’s conducting a study on it now.

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