Palliative care services are often lacking in rural settings. While I work at the University of Colorado on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, I live in rural Colorado and see this in everyday life. That is why I am supportive of improving education about palliative care to community providers.

Assessing rural care

In 2012, I conducted a palliative care needs assessment of health care professionals in 236 rural hospitals in the Rocky Mountain region a few years ago where we found that significant barriers to providing optimal palliative care exist. These barriers include:

  • decreased knowledge about palliative care practices;
  • lack of administrative support, mentorship, and access to palliative care resources; and
  • limited training or skills related to palliative care.

What topics do rural health care providers wish to learn more about?  Pain management and communication techniques were at the top of the list. In addition, end-of-life care and symptom management issues were also noteworthy. How health care providers wish to learn is through online and long distance modalities. It is difficult for rural health care professionals to travel to educational symposia or workshops given that they may not have adequate coverage for their work. Having a strong working relationship with local hospice organizations was key to help in the provision of existing palliative care services.

Education and services lacking

This lack of palliative care education and services is not something that is exclusive to the rural Rocky Mountain region. Recently, I also participated in a systematic review of rural palliative care delivery throughout the world and found that research to guide rural palliative care practice is severely lacking. Palliative care is often nonexistent in rural settings worldwide.

Enter the University of Colorado MSPC. It is our goal to educate health care professionals about palliative care in both rural and urban settings. Our online format enables providers to continue to work while learning the most up-to-date palliative care practices. Networking with other professionals will provide an ongoing forum for learning.

Check out our website to learn more about our MSPC program for working providers.

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