Dying While Human
Palliative care is a growing area of medicine that focuses on improving quality of life for patients and their families during a serious or terminal illness. Miller was the executive director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. The independent nonprofit group trains volunteers in palliative care and staffs its own small-scale residential operation.
Miller’s ideas on palliative care began evolving when he was in an accident during his sophomore year at Princeton that left him with two legs amputated just below the knee and one arm amputated. He found that the only way he could come to terms with his new reality was by seeing it simply as part of being human—suffering and all. He believes that all suffering, even at the end of life, offers the opportunity for some kind of meaning. For one patient in the story, it was the ability to hang out with his friends, play video games, and smoke cigarettes for the six or so weeks he had to live. For others, it’s something else.
But it is different for everyone, and palliative care approaches to serious illness and death enable health care providers to make it personal, take it out of the sterile, hospital realm that leaves people feeling separated and often, alone. As The Times article notes, “There are parts of ourselves that the conventional health care system isn’t equipped to heal or nourish, adding to our suffering.”
Palliative care isn’t just good for patients—it’s actually good for providers and payers as well. According to a Leader’s Edge story on palliative care, one study of palliative care patients saw an average decline of 36.8% in monthly spending for inpatient and outpatient health services; a decrease in hospitalization rates of 34.9%; a decrease in length of hospital stays of 24.6% and a total cost savings of 44%.
The palliative care movement was given a boost by the Affordable Care Act and other recent initiatives to improve health care quality in the U.S. As it continues to grow, there is an opportunity for brokers to seek out coverage for this type of care and work with carriers to ensure it becomes an important part of their plans.