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The Promise of Virtual Care in Palliative Care

Palliative care for at-home patients can improve quality of life for patients with complex needs.  According to the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), palliative care teams partner with primary physicians to provide patients with a better quality of life and lower symptom burden:

  • Time devoted for intensive family meetings and patient/family counseling
  • Skilled communication about what to expect in the future in order to ensure that care is matched to the goals and priorities of the patient and the family
  • Expert management of complex physical and emotional symptoms, including complex pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, shortness of breath, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping
  • Coordination and communication of care plans among all providers and across all settings

Home-based palliative care can result in lower overall healthcare costs, stemming from less hospital use and lower hospital costs such as the following findings cited by CAPC:  

  • The net reduction in costs per participant per month in 2014 dollars ranged from $2,690 for dementia to $4,258 for cancer for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in Southern California.
  • Home-based palliative care patients in Banner Health System demonstrated significantly lower instances of readmissions 7.7% for home-based palliative care patients versus 22.6% for the controls.
  • Home-based palliative care within an ACO resulted in a 35% increased hospice enrollment rate and a 240% increased median hospice length of stay compared to usual care (34 days vs. 10 days).

Effective palliative care results from ongoing communication and management of a patient’s symptoms and status.  Remote palliative care – the use of a virtual care or telehealth platform – to engage patients and their family caregivers – is critical to helping addressing patients’ changing needs.  With a virtual care platform, home health staff can conduct virtual visits with their patients, nearby family caregivers, distant family members, and the patients’ PCP.  Video-enabled check-in’s help the palliative nurse identify symptom escalation and functional decline in real-time and respond accordingly with the appropriate care.   On-demand access to care helps patients or caregivers get the answers they need – or the support they seek – when they experience problems in caring for the patient and are unsure what to do next.  As a result, the need for a nurse to travel to/from a patient’s home is minimized while the patient’s (and family member’s) reliance on visiting the ER for immediate care is reduced.   Video, text messaging, SMS, and email communications also increase the patients’ – and their family caregivers’ – feelings of support and connection with home health providers, decreasing their fear, depression and anxiety during pain and symptom management.

The use of a virtual care platform also optimizes available palliative care resources – especially in communities with a shortage of trained specialists and/or rural areas where visiting nurses have great distances to cover in reaching patients. The technology enables providers to care for more patients, increasing access to palliative care services.   Multidisciplinary team meetings amongst the patient’s broader care team can also be conducted via video, improving the continuity of care and enhancing the role of palliative care overall.

Remote palliative care is crucial to helping patients and family members continue to receive compassionate care at the most critical times.   With a virtual care communication platform, home health agencies can bring comfort to patients at any time and from anywhere. 

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