By Robert Mundle, MDiv, STM, ThM, BCC
Palliative care has a marketing problem. Many Canadians think that palliative care is only for cancer patients and fear that palliative care is equivalent to giving up on life (Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, 2011). Likewise, key findings from recent survey data in the United States (n=800) indicate that palliative care is a relative unknown among consumers. When asked, “How knowledgeable, if at all, are you about palliative care?” 70% of respondents said that they were “not at all knowledgeable” (Center to Advance Palliative Care, 2011, p. 3). Yet, once informed, 92% of respondents said that it is important to have palliative care services available. In turn, 95% of respondents agreed that more education is needed to inform patients and families about palliative care (p. 13).
The Center to Advance Palliative Care recommends providing consumers with a clear definition of palliative care that uses “new language” about improving the quality of life and not necessarily about hospice care or end-of-life care. It states, “Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stresses of a serious illness — whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care is appropriate at any age at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment” (p. 7).
One of the recommendations of the Canadian Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care (2011) was for the federal government to fund a national public awareness campaign on palliative and end-of-life care. Perhaps there are similar large-scale initiatives underway in the United States. In the meantime, there are a variety of ways to promote the aims and benefits of palliative care at the grassroots level. For example, in addition to the work you are doing already, perhaps you might give a talk or host a panel discussion on palliative care at your local church or community center. You might write a short article for your community newspaper on the palliative care needs and resources within your local area. Or you might highlight the need for more education about palliative care within your social media networks. As one (now anonymous) physician commented recently in a professional social media forum on palliative care, “We are each responsible to continue to EDUCATE, EDUCATE, EDUCATE – Community, Houses of Worship, Students, Rotary Clubs, Geriatric Case Managers, …OUR COLLEAGUES, each discipline…. I speak anywhere, and anytime I am requested. We in the Hospice-Palliative Community MUST remain focused, passionate, non-threatening, and simple. We must also make it as easy as possible to access our services” (Palliative Care Network group on LinkedIn).
Robert Mundle works in spiritual health at St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital site, Providence Care, in Kingston, ON, Canada.
Center to Advance Palliative Care (2011). 2011 Public Opinion Research on Palliative Care: A Report Based on Research by Public Opinion Strategies. http://www.capc.org/tools-for-palliative-care-programs/marketing/public-opinion-research/2011-public-opinion-research-on-palliative-care.pdf (Accessed Dec. 4, 2013)
Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care (2011). Not to be forgotten: Care of vulnerable Canadians. http://pcpcc-cpspsc.com (Accessed Dec. 4, 2013)