The University of Michigan Health System has begun training teams of palliative care specialists. The Adult Palliative Medicine Program puts more focus on helping patients manage the physical and emotional pain from chronic disease and dying.
U-M Chief of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine Dr. Raymond Yung is guiding the program. He says some patients think suffering is just the way it is -- that they're supposed to be tough. Some people may worry about addiction.
"This is not a reason for anyone to withhold pain medication that they need," Yung says. "In this patient population, actual issues with addiction is not a big problem at all."
Yung says the U-M program connects patients and their families not just with doctors, but with social workers, nurses, clergy, psychologists and pharmacists as well.
"There are a lot of fears and concerns, psychological needs, financial issues, all of these are important to them, so all of these have to be addressed," he says.
According to U-M, there is just one palliative care provider for every 1,300 people with a serious disease. That compares to one cardiologist for every 71 people who experience a heart attack, and one oncologist for every 145 patients with a new cancer diagnosis.