Eligibility Criteria Contribute To Racial Disparities In Hospice Use

A new study finds that hospice services—care that is provided by physicians, visiting nurses, chaplains, home health aides, social workers and counselors—have restrictions that reduce usage by many patients who are most in-need, particularly African Americans. The research, published in the February 1, 2009 issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, indicates that the eligibility criteria for hospice services should be reconsidered.

In order to enroll in hospice, patients must have a prognosis of six months or less if their illness runs its usual course. They must also accept the palliative nature of hospice care. African American patients are less likely than white patients to use hospice, but the reasons for this difference have remained somewhat unknown.

In the current work, investigators at the University of Pennsylvania designed a study to explore the reasons for racial disparities in hospice care among cancer patients. To define and compare preferences for cancer treatment and perceived needs for hospice services among African-American patients and white patients, Dr. David Casarett and colleagues interviewed 283 patients who were receiving cancer treatment at six oncology clinics within the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Network.

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