By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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Palliative care is “central” and should be integrated into the treatment of patients with heart disease and stroke, says a new policy statement from the American Heart Association.

Among the nearly 30 recommendations was a call for care teams to work with patients and families at the onset of disease to determine a patient’s needs for palliative care and to coordinate with palliative care specialists.

Not to be confused with hospice care delivered at the end of life, palliative care is provided in conjunction with medical treatments for people with serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. It offers symptom management, emotional support, and help with medical decision-making and navigating the healthcare system.

The number of U.S. hospitals with palliative care programs has grown dramatically in recent decades. In 1998, only 15 percent of hospitals with 50 beds or more had palliative care programs. By 2014, two-thirds had programs, according to a recent report in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

“This approach to care can help patients better understand the disease they are fighting, their treatment options and their prognosis,” said Lynne Braun, Ph.D., chair of the committee that wrote the new statement.

Palliative care can also “ease the burden of care” for families and caregivers, said Braun, a professor of nursing at Chicago’s Rush University and a nurse practitioner at Rush Heart Center for Women.

Other priorities outlined in the statement include setting hospital policies for palliative care during hospitalization, palliative care training for healthcare providers, and greater incentives for federal and state agencies to reimburse for comprehensive palliative care.

Headway is already being made to remove payment barriers. As of Jan. 1, Medicare now reimburses healthcare providers for advance care planning — discussions with patients about their options and preferences for end-of-life care.

Although research has demonstrated the benefits of palliative care, the statement authors note more studies are needed to optimize palliative care specifically for heart disease and stroke patients.

AHA CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement, “We hope these policy recommendations are adopted as soon as possible so more heart disease and stroke patients and their families can receive the palliative care they want and deserve.”