February 22, 2018

The need for palliative care is steadily increasing across the globe.

This trend will persist in the future in a climate of growing populations, with more people suffering from cancer and dementia and cases of people living longer with a variety of chronic conditions. The challenges this scenario poses are numerous – including lack of qualified caregivers and healthcare staff, unequally distributed access to palliative care and increased strain to healthcare budgets. A new, global approach to palliative care is needed, with new types care solutions at its heart.

This 2017 UK study reports that, if recent mortality trends continue, 160,000 more people in England and Wales will need palliative care by 2040, and calls for healthcare systems to adapt sooner than later, looking into new solutions in order to meet this increasing demand. Countries with similar demographics are expected to face a comparable need, whilst those outside the western world face even greater challenges, already far behind in providing this type of care at present.

Palliative care as a human right

At Hospices for Hope, we believe palliative care is a basic human right regardless of financial situation or location of the patient, however, it stands that many across the globe are still denied the comfort and dignity that palliative care offers people at the end of their lives.  Access to palliative care remains inconsistent, even in high-income countries, with an estimate as low as 14% globally, receiving it, as discussed in this article on US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

If more people are to receive palliative care in the future, a focus on this type of care needs to be prioritised and a multidisciplinary approach taken, including training more specialists in this field, establishing governing bodies, increasing political and corporate engagement, finding more funds to be allocated in this direction as well as utilising new care techniques such as clever use of technology in the care setting.

Pioneering technology for end-of-life care

Hospices for Hope have seen the direct impacts on using technology in palliative care, trialling the use of virtual and augmented reality and mobile technologies to great effect and reception by patients in our hospices, collaborating with Dr Brennan Spiegel, Director of Cedars-Sinai Centre for Outcomes Research and Education in Los Angeles. Virtual reality is already being used an effective means of pain management and alternative to medication, as well providing an outlet for patients confined in the hospital environment or as way to stimulate past memories of dementia sufferers. Mobile and internet technology enables communication with patients and care staff remotely, helping greatly with overworked healthcare staff and stretched budgets. Patients are using AI integrated tablets to help them with palliative care decisions, from medication reminders to the discussion of difficult end-of-life conversations. Technology is providing innovative, non-invasive and cost-effective support and has great potential to supplement traditional palliative care, worldwide.

A type of palliative care movement is gaining momentum with increasing research, allocation of funds by governments and new technology being employed to great effect. With most of the palliative care reforms happening in developed countries, it’s important that any blueprints for success are shared globally, with the differing needs, demographics and sociocultural conditions considered from country to country.

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