Research Highlights Need for Greater Diversity Among Family Physicians Providing Palliative Care



Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224 

WASHINGTON, DC — One-third of family physicians report they provide palliative care, and most provide that care in underserved rural areas, according to research by the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

The research, “Provision of Palliative Care Services by Family Physicians(” found family physicians who provide palliative care were more likely to be male, white non-Hispanic, and working in rural areas in the West or Midwest. They also were more likely to have been in practice more than 20 years and were part of a medical home setting.

“Amidst rising demand for palliative care services, it is reassuring to find that most family physicians report that they currently provide palliative care,” writes Claire Ankuda, MD, MPH, Robert Graham Center Researcher and Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan, in the March issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

However, family physicians who report providing palliative care are older, white and rural. Such demographics raise alarm about the pipeline of family physicians who provide palliative care, she writes. It also raises concerns about the quality of care for non-white patients, who already experience disparities in the quality of end-of-life care.

African-Americans represent 13 percent and Hispanics represent 11 percent of the U.S. population. However, only 3 percent of physicians are African-American and 3 percent are Hispanic, according to the American Association of Colleges of Medicine. Worse, AAMC has seen a decline in the number of African-American men in medicine. At the same time, the growth of the family physician workforce has lagged behind the overall demand for primary medical care.

These trends come at a time when demand for palliative care -- which provides medical care for people with serious illness by providing symptom relief and pain control -- is expected to increase dramatically as Americans age. Between 1.6 million and 1.7 million patients received hospice care in 2014. An estimated 90 million Americans are living with serious illness -- a number that is expected to double in the next 25 years.

“This study provides a foundation for the next steps we must take to provide for the future of primary-care based palliative care,” Ankuda writes. “We must understand the quality of palliative care provided by primary care physicians, and understand the barriers to high-quality palliative care.”


About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.