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J Palliat Med. 2008 Oct;11(8):1094-102. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2008.0053.

Variability in access to hospital palliative care in the United States.

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Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York New York 10029, USA.



Hospital palliative care programs provide high-quality, comprehensive care for seriously ill patients and their families.


To examine geographic variation in patient and medical trainee access to hospital palliative care and to examine predictors of these programs.


Primary and secondary analyses of national survey and census data. Hospital data including hospital palliative care programs were obtained from the American Hospital Association (AHA) Annual Survey Databasetrade mark for fiscal year 2006 supplemented by mailed surveys. Medical school-affiliated hospitals were obtained from the American Association of Medical Colleges, Web-site review, and telephone survey. Health care utilization data were obtained from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care 2008. Multivariate logistic regression was used to identify characteristics significantly associated with the presence of hospital palliative care.


A total of 52.8% of hospitals with 50 or more total facility beds reported hospital palliative care with considerable variation by state; 40.9% (144/352) of public hospitals, 20.3% (84/413) of for-profit hospitals, and 28.8% (160/554) of Medicare sole community providers reported hospital palliative care. A total of 84.5% of medical schools were associated with at least one hospital palliative care program. Factors significantly associated (p < 0.05) with hospital palliative care included geographic location, owning a hospice program, having an American College of Surgery approved cancer program, percent of persons in the county with a university education, and medical school affiliation. For-profit and public hospitals were significantly less likely to have hospital palliative care when compared with nonprofit institutions. States with higher hospital palliative care penetration rates were observed to have fewer Medicare hospital deaths, fewer intensive care unit/cardiac care unit (ICU/CCU) days and admissions during the last 6 months of life, fewer ICU/CCU admission during terminal hospitalizations, and lower overall Medicare spending/enrollee.


This study represents the most recent estimate to date of the prevalence of hospital palliative care in the United States. There is wide geographic variation in access to palliative care services although factors predicting hospital palliative care have not changed since 2005. Overall, medical students have high rates of access to hospital palliative care although complete penetration into academic settings has not occurred. The association between hospital palliative care penetration and lower Medicare costs is intriguing and deserving of further study.

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