Palliative care access remains a problem, also in the South African private healthcare sector.

Patients and their families facing serious illnesses often have to go it alone, and should be offered an extra layer of skilled, medical support called PALLIATIVE CARE. This should be the norm, from the time of diagnosis. This is not happening in the private healthcare sector. Why not and is there a solution?

As companions in care, palliative care teams are experts at helping with control of pain and other distressing symptoms, complex medical decision-making and offer emotional and spiritual support. However, most patients are not afforded the opportunity to have a palliative care team joining them on their journey with serious illness, even in the private sector. As it stands, patients are lucky to be receiving two weeks of care at home by a trained carer. Most, when their symptoms are uncontrolled or their condition deteriorates, need to go back into hospital. This is usually not the preferred choice of patients and families.

Advocacy for palliative care is growing globally, but medical schemes remain slow to act. The National Policy Framework and Strategy on Palliative Care was signed in South Africa in 2017. In the foreword of the document, Dr S.M. Dhlomo MEC for Health KwaZulu-Natal, states: “The World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolution reminds us that integrated palliative care is a basic human right, and that this right has been violated in our country, and in many low- and middle-income countries through neglect of palliative care as an integral part of the continuum of care.”

This policy, along with the fact the palliative care is considered part of Universal Health Coverage and is in the process of becoming a Prescribed Minimum Benefit (PMB) level of care in South Africa, implies that medical schemes can no longer shy away from reimbursing palliative care to patients with serious illness. They can also not expect providers to carry the burden of these costs. Robust, quality palliative care teams will only be established if they are financially sustainable. Schemes stand to benefit as patients are mostly able to be cared for at home, avoiding unnecessary and costly hospitalisations.

The way medical schemes reimburse palliative care providers for their services (if at all) remains one of the key barriers to palliative care access. In essence schemes pay a set rate for every consultation. This is called ‘fee-for-service’. This rate per consultation is typically very low,  and does not take into account the long duration or complexity of such consultations. In addition, a lot of what these teams do is hold the space for patients and families: being available when there is a need, coordinating care by talking to other team members or doctors involved in the patient’s care, checking in proactively via whatsapp and so on. This is not time that can be billed for. And so, as a palliative care doctor is not seeing 4 or 5 patients an hour in their surgery, this way of reimbursement makes it virtually impossible for sustainable palliative care teams to exist.

PALPRAC has collaborated closely with an innovative new managed care organization, Alignd, to rethink this stalemate in our system and come up with something new. Alignd shares PALPRAC’s vision in  improved access to optimal palliative care in South Africa. They do this by offering a comprehensive value-based business solution to medical schemes, called Alignd.Palliative. This product unlocks the financial gridlock for palliative care. A targeted palliative care benefit has been designed, based on international best practice, PALPRAC’s experience with their patients and Alignd’s expertise. Along with the benefit design, a value-based payment mechanism for formally trained palliative care multi-disciplinary teams has been established. This would mean that while healthcare providers are supported financially in delivering the service, patients are supported and empowered and costs are reduced without compromising quality.

Value-based care is concerned with the overarching goal of value for a patient. Under value-based care, incentives are aligned with outcomes. Healthcare providers are rewarded for helping patients improve their quality of life in an evidence-based way. Value-based care differs from a fee-for-service approach, in which providers are paid based on the amount of healthcare services they deliver. The “value” in value-based healthcare is derived from measuring health outcomes against the cost of delivering the outcomes.

Watch the video to find out more about value-based care, Alignd and their partners (including Palprac).

In this way, the Alignd.Palliative benefit is a seamless ‘plug and play’ solution for medical schemes. It will achieve the goals of quality palliative care to the patient, value to the medical scheme and sustainability to the provider. 

If you think palliative care might be something to consider for yourself or a loved one, or if you have struggled with access to palliative care, please send us an email at info@palprac.org with your story. Patients and family’s voices are urgently needed to help shift the status quo.

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