For the vast majority of physicians who provide palliative medicine services, it is not their primary field of practice, says a new national survey by the Canadian Medical Association.
In the largest survey of its kind performed in Canada, the association gathered responses from 1,114 physicians who deliver palliative care services.
The survey found that for 84 per cent of respondents, palliative care was not their primary field of practice.
“Primary care providers need more support for palliative care education and training,” the Canadian Medical Association concluded. “Primary care has been the focus of palliative care programs in the hope that many family physicians will provide the basic day-to-day symptom management required.”
Family physicians with a focused practice in palliative medicine and palliative medicine specialists – 16 per cent of all respondents – reported working an average of 36 hours per week in palliative care. Physicians who provide palliative care as part of their other clinical duties – 84% of respondents – reported working an average of seven hours providing palliative care services.
The survey also examined the differences between rural and urban areas for access to palliative care services.
Just 35 per cent of palliative medicine physicians in rural and remote areas reported having specialized palliative care teams to provide care in their area, compared to 79 per cent of physicians in urban areas. Formal home health care for patients wishing to die at home was reported to be available by 49 per cent of urban palliative medicine physicians versus 30 per cent of rural physicians.
“All Canadians in need deserve timely access to quality palliative medicine,” said Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada president Dr. Kevin Imrie, in a press release. “Demand for this care will only rise in the years ahead, and we need to ensure that doctors caring for patients at the end of life are properly trained, supported and available.”