In recent months, telehealth has emerged as an essential element in home care models as it allows providers to monitor patients through recovery, preventing hospital readmissions. In addition to home care, telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) has numerous benefits to patients across the healthcare spectrum, including those receiving palliative care.
For palliative patients, care coordination, educational and informational resources, and symptom and medication management are critical to improving quality of life and preventing adverse health events. Telehealth and RPM services can offer patients and their families the advanced care necessary to ensure their needs are met.
This blog will outline the three keys areas in which telehealth and RPM can enhance your palliative care services and improve your patient outcomes.
1. Improved Care Coordination
Palliative care requires coordination between a specialized team of nurses, physicians, social workers, as well as other care providers. Physical and occupational therapy, mental health counseling, medication management and other services focus on improving a patient’s quality of life and require a team effort. To do this effectively palliative care providers must coordinate with multiple providers for each patient, from primary care physicians to oncologists to surgeons. Telehealth and RPM platforms offer several features that can advance care coordination, specifically for palliative care patients.
The collection of patient biometric data, as we’ll discuss in more detail later, allows the palliative care team to evaluate their patient’s health on a daily basis and gather trends to improve their care plan. This information can be easily shared with the patient’s other providers to streamline communication and inform patient assessments. Virtual visits, a staple of telehealth care, allows for the inclusion of all providers, across multiple locations, to meet with patients face-to-face when discussing the difficult and personal decision made while receiving palliative care.
The use of virtual visits has never been more imperative as rural communities across the country face hospital closures and severe shortages of healthcare providers. In 2019, the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina published a study projecting a severe shortage in palliative care workers over the next several decades. Virtual visits improve access to healthcare, particularly in rural communities.
Family caregivers are a cornerstone of palliative care. Patients receiving palliative care need family caregivers to comfort them and share their burdens. Palliative providers utilizing telehealth platforms are encouraged to incorporate family caregivers into the care plan process, whether in-person or through virtual visits. If possible, palliative care providers can further involve family caregivers by offering mobile applications with which to check their loved ones’ vital signs, adherence, pain or symptoms, as well as access counseling and educational resources for the palliative or end-life-process.
2. Educational and Informational Resources
The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for patients with long-term diseases or life-limiting illnesses. Receiving care from multiple providers, for multiple conditions , can often be confusing for patients and their families. To begin, providers can leverage telehealth platforms to offer information on palliative care and disease-specific educational resources.
- For example, educational videos can outline:
- What palliative care can offer patients and their families
- How it will complement the patient’s continued treatment
- How the palliative care team will work with the patient’s other providers
- How the patient’s pain and symptoms will be monitored and managed
- What role family caregivers will play and what additional resources are available to them
These educational resources are only half the picture. Informational and spiritual resources can also be offered to patients and their caregivers through telehealth and RPM platforms. Virtual visits can again be employed to offer specialty care or services, like access to grief counseling, social workers, or a chaplain while educational videos and resources on end-of-life care and grief and bereavement services can be added to the patient’s care plan and telehealth platform when necessary.
3. Symptom, Pain, and Medication Management
For patients receiving treatment for long-term diseases or life-limiting illness, severe symptoms can result from their treatment as well as from their condition, thus requiring complex symptom management from their palliative care providers. Telehealth and RPM can not only facilitate the coordination required between providers but is an imperative resource in collecting patient data and information for evaluation.
Remote patient monitoring allows providers to collect biometric data from patients including their heart rate, blood pressure, O2 levels, temperature, and more. Collecting this patient information enables palliative care teams to continuously assess patients’ health, inform additional care providers of patients’ status, and triage patients’ all while keeping the patient in the comfort of home.
Beyond biometric data, providers can leverage medication management and symptom survey tools available via telehealth and RPM platforms. Collecting this information is critical to proper symptom, pain, and medication management, providing further insight into patients’ daily health and wellbeing.
For example, symptom surveys and medication adherence can tell a provider:
- If the patient has been taking their medication correctly
- If the patient requires an immediate medication refill
- If the patient has experienced pain in the last 24 hours
- If the patient has had trouble breathing or has experienced nausea or vomiting in the last 24 hours
- If the has patient felt confused of nervous in the last 24 hours
This additional information can impact a patient’s care plan, their medications, and even the response from the palliative care team should the patient’s biometric readings trigger a risk alert. Symptoms surveys, medication adherence, and biometric readings can also be shared with caregivers to ensure they’re kept abreast of the patient’s condition and potential needs.
Palliative care is an invaluable service that provides patients and their caregivers a lifeline to a variety of services and specialists during a very difficult time in their life. Telehealth and RPM can improve care quality and thus quality of life for both patients and families. For palliative providers, telehealth and RPM can ease communication difficulties, inform care planning to improve care quality, and enhance services offerings to patients and their families.
Listen to Florence Kariuki, HRS' Chief Clinical Officer highlight the importance of palliative care: