Why does palliative care matter?
Unfortunately, there has been a long history of under-treatment of pain, with some studies finding that only about 30% of patients say their pain is effectively managed (and this percentage is lower amongst some racialized groups). In medical schools there is often no comprehensive training or full courses in pain management – only about 16% of medical schools offer pain courses and they are largely elective which means students don’t have to take them. Less than 4% of medical schools require them. This means that unless doctors choose to seek out training in pain management, most will have never received comprehensive training. In addition, as there has been a push back on opioid prescriptions (and specifically the over- or mis-prescribing of opioids), as a result more doctors are afraid to prescribe certain pain medicines even when they are truly necessary.
Furthermore, pain is not the only type of suffering. There can be psychological and emotional suffering, there can be isolation and social suffering, and there can be existential or spiritual suffering. There can also be other physical symptoms that are troubling.
Therefore, there is a need for a team of professionals to not only specialize in the prevention and treatment of suffering, but to focus their careers on this to counteract the aforementioned issues. That’s what palliative care providers do. They focus on the patient’s quality of life and suffering in its many forms.