February 7, 2018

Recent studies into the use of telecommunications technology to supplement palliative care have shown that it can be a cost-efficient, accessible form of care that patients have found beneficial and wish to see more use of within their own care plans.

The technology is helping a stretched palliative care system, particularly in more rural areas, and is helping patients achieve their end of life wishes to die at home instead of in the hospital setting.

Many patients facing the end of life in the United States and all over the world still fail to access the hospice system due to a number of factors, including having a lack of family network available to provide care, with many hospices unable to admit patients unless family members or friends are available to serve as primary caregivers between hospice staff visits.

Providing a remote link between patients and healthcare staff

Telemedicine has been in development since the 1960s, with internet video-calling now making it easier than ever to connect, helping to overcome barriers to accessing palliative care and helping to improve patient’s end-of-life experiences. Hospice services via telecommunications technology can be delivered directly into a patient’s home in underserved rural and urban sites, as well as to patients with limited caregiver support.

Nurses, social workers, spiritual care counsellors and physicians have access to videophone technology, enabling them to connect with and assess patients through videophones located in their homes or via video calls on personal computers. Hospice workers routinely call patients at least once a week to check-in and assess how patients are doing and patients are also empowered to reach hospice workers via the technology too. Studies have shown that patients have found the technology easy to use and reassuring to have, with healthcare providers also being open to how the technology can help reach patients where geographical or financial barriers may have existed previously.

Assistance to caregivers

There is huge potential to aid caregivers, often thrust into this new role with little experience, with video calling enabling nurses to provide instructions on anything from distributing medications to changing bedpans. Having this link can also help to reassure caregivers and ease any worry or anxiety around the wellbeing of their loved ones during this difficult time and enables both patients and caregivers the ability to call nurses during the night or if there is an immediate emergency. Using a camera also helps patients and caregivers show any problems, say with equipment or something physical on the body, and helps medical professionals offer accurate advice or make the decision if a visit is necessary or not.

Video calling offers a form of face-to-face communication and is increasingly used as an extension of traditional hospice services, providing patients with another aspect to their home care package. As the healthcare community seeks new solutions to address issues such as rising costs, improved access to services and acceptable levels of quality and continuity of care, telecommunication technology provides an easy way to connect to patients, assisting them with their wishes to remain in the comfort of their own homes for the remainder of their lives. Find out more from this 2001 study.

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