New Public Opinion Research Reveals Palliative Care Still Relatively Unknown Among the General Public

Categories: Research.

Shows Education for Consumers and Physicians Necessary to Make a Difference.

New opinion research from the Center to Advance Palliative Care confirms that once educated with the correct definition of palliative care, understanding and favorability greatly increase among consumers and physicians.

“All organizations and clinicians must proactively align themselves in defining palliative care correctly,” said Diane E. Meier, MD, CAPC director. “With an aging population increasing exponentially, it is more important than ever that both the field of palliative care and the referring clinicians evolve their rhetoric. The point must always be made that palliative care is based on need, not prognosis.”

According to the surveys, key findings show:


  • Initial impressions of palliative care are positive to neutral. Patients and caregivers report higher levels of familiarity than the general public.
  • Defining palliative care (see below for CAPC’s definition) has a significant positive impact on how people feel about palliative care. Consumers are very favorable of palliative care based on this definition:

o    “Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care is based on the needs of the patient, not on the patient’s prognosis. This care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.”

  • More than eight in ten consumers say they would be likely to consider palliative care for themselves or a loved one if they had a serious illness.
  • There is a strong belief among consumers that it is very important for palliative care services be made available at all hospitals for patients with a serious illness and their families.


  • Physicians who treat patients with serious illness are much more familiar with palliative care, and have much more favorable views of palliative care than the general public, patients, and caregivers.
  • In fact, these physicians’ rate palliative care more favorably than hospice care and end of life care.
  • Most physicians say they are very comfortable referring their patients to palliative care.  Nearly all are very or somewhat comfortable talking to their patients and families about palliative care and determining when their patients need palliative care.
  • However, on average, physicians report that they are not always referring their patients with serious illness to palliative care, or talking with their patients or their families about palliative care.
  • When asked for the biggest barriers preventing physicians from referring their patients with serious illness to palliative care, these physicians say: physicians not being comfortable talking with patients about it, patients not wanting it, and physicians viewing palliative care as only end of life care.
  • These physicians recognize the positive impact palliative care has for their patients and their care, rating the following as having the most positive impact: the ability to manage the pain and other symptoms for patients with a serious illness; the quality of life for patients with a serious illness; and the quality of care patients with a serious illness receive
  • We provided physicians with the same definition of palliative care that we did to consumers. After reading the definition, more than six in ten physicians say they are more likely to consider referring patients with serious illness to palliative care.

The objectives of the research were to explore current familiarity, attitudes, and perceptions about palliative care. The research firm of Public Opinion Strategies (POS) conducted three national surveys in June 2019 on behalf of CAPC:

  • National telephone survey among 800 adults ages 25+ with an oversample of adults ages 65+ (June 8-13, 2019)
  • National online survey among 252 patients with serious illness and 262 family caregivers of patients with serious illness (June 12-24, 2019)
  • National online survey among 317 physicians who treat patients with serious illness (207 hospital-based physicians/110 non-hospital-based physicians) (June 18-27, 2019)

The key findings were presented in a webinar briefing on August 8, 2019. To access the full briefing, please visit

The Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) is a national organization dedicated to increasing the availability of quality health care for people living with a serious illness. As the nation’s leading resource in its field, CAPC provides health care professionals and organizations with the training, tools, and technical assistance necessary to effectively meet this need. CAPC is part of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. To learn more, visit

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