The Current State of Palliative Care for Patients Cared for at Leading US Cancer Centers: The 2015 NCCN Palliative Care Survey

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  • a From Division of Geriatrics, UCSF, San Francisco, California; Department of Supportive and Palliative Care, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York; Supportive Care Medicine, Moffitt Cancer Center, and University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida; Stanford Cancer Institute, Stanford, California; National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania; and UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, San Francisco, California.

Background: ASCO and IOM recommend palliative care (PC) across health care settings for patients with serious illnesses, including cancer. This study provides an overview of the current availability, structure, and basic quality of PC services within NCCN Member Institutions. Methods: A PC survey was developed by NCCN staff and a working group of PC experts from 11 NCCN Member Institutions under the auspices of the NCCN Best Practices Committee. The survey was piloted and refined by 3 working group members and sent electronically to all 26 NCCN Member Institutions. NCCN staff and working group leaders analyzed the survey data. Results: A total of 22 of 26 institutions responded (85%). All respondents (100%) reported an inpatient PC consult service (staffed by an average of 6.8 full-time equivalents [FTEs], seeing 1,031 consults/year with an average length of stay [LOS] of 10 days). A total of 91% of respondents had clinic-based PC (with an average of 469 consults/year, staffed by an average of 6.8 FTEs, and a 17-day wait time). For clinics, a comanagement care delivery model was more common than strict consultation. Home-based PC (23%) and inpatient PC units (32%) were less prevalent. Notably, 80% of institutions reported insufficient PC capacity compared with demand. Across PC settings, referrals for patients with solid tumors were more common than for hematologic malignancies. Automatic or “triggered” referrals were rare. The most common services provided were symptom management (100%) and advance care planning (96%). Most programs were funded through fee-for-service billing and institutional support. Partnerships with accountable care organizations and bundled payment arrangements were infrequent. PC program data collection and institutional funding for PC research were variable across institutions. Conclusions: Despite the prevalence of PC inpatient and clinic services among participating NCCN Member Institutions, PC demand still exceeds capacity. Opportunities exist for expansion of home-based PC and inpatient PC units, optimizing referrals, research, and payer collaborations.

Correspondence: Brook A. Calton, MD, MHS, University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California Street, Suite 380, San Francisco, CA 94118. E-mail:

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