March 13, 2018

Research recently published by a group of scientists from Stanford University shows a promising way for technology to help estimate the end of a patient’s life, making the palliative care process much more effective for patients.

The researchers have been working using an algorithm that can look at a patient’s records and estimate how much time they have left to live, from three to 12 months.

Currently there can often be a mismatch in the wishes of patients and reality, with many patients who wish to die at home actually spending their remaining days in the hospital. A part of this is not being able to give an accurate estimate of how much time individual patients have left, which is where this new algorithm could aid doctors to plan out a palliative care plan fitting to the case of individual patients.

The researchers note that although 80% of Americans wish to die at home, in fact only 20% end up getting to do so due to a combination of issues as well as unequal access to palliative care. Overstretched palliative care teams, it’s thought, could be aided greatly in using these algorithms, helping them to prioritize patients in the greatest need. This is in-line with the many ways technology is beginning to be used in the palliative care setting – helping mange the work of overstretched teams as well as improving the quality of care received.

The results this algorithm gives can help doctors prioritize who receives palliative care and when, with their decisions being guided by reports generated by this technology. It works by analyzing several years of electronic health records and then comparing and analyzing against a patient’s own health records to calculate a prediction about an individual patient’s mortality. It takes into account aspects like how many days a patient has been in hospital, what medications they are taking and how serious their diagnosis is, and creates reports on patients for their doctors to review.

The algorithm is currently being used in a pilot project in one hospital at present, showing promising results that could well lead to more technology like this being used to help shape palliative care for dying patients across the world.

At an extremely stressful and emotional time for patients and their families, better end of life care shaped by this technology and in line with the wishes of patients and their families could help improve the palliative care process for many in the future.

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