Doctors: Canada needs to do better in end-of-life care

You might be surprised to find out how far down a list of 80 countries Canada is when promoting end-of-life care. A group of physicians says that’s not acceptable.

Canada needs to expand its approach to palliative care beyond just patients with cancer, according to a group of doctors who deal with end-of-life care.

Canada is ranked 18th out of 80 countries for palliative care, according to a Winnipeg Free Press report. The group of doctors, writing for the Canadian Medical Association Journal, pointed out that that rank put Canada behind countries such as Mongolia and Panama when it came to developing strategies to promote end-of-life care.

“We ought to be doing better and can be doing better,” article co-author Dr. Graeme Rocker told the Free Press. “And it wouldn’t take a seismic change for us to achieve a higher level. Our aim isn’t to be increasing our ranking, as it were, but it’s (about) providing adequate care to the patients who need it.”

According to the Free Press report, studies have found that two-thirds of the 250,000 Canadians who die each year have illnesses other than cancer. However, most of them don’t have access to the same kind of palliative care options as cancer patients.

Rocker and his co-authors said all doctors should be trained in end-of-life care – especially since there’s a shortage of palliative-care doctors. Currently, the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians has fewer than 500 members, the Free Press reported.

“There’s a tendency for all of us to manage patients with the standard treatment approaches and then when things start turning really bad, we might be asking our palliative-care colleagues to become involved and take over the management of the patient in the later stages,” Rocker told the Free Press. “But we can’t rely on that for the future because there simply are not enough palliative-care specialists or palliative-care nurses who can provide that level of support for what will become an increasingly large number of elderly patients in Canada with chronic illness and multiple interacting symptoms.”

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