Hospice Telehealth: Is it working?

According to the American Cancer Society,

Hospice care is a special kind of care that focuses on the quality of life for people and their caregivers who are experiencing advanced, life-limiting illnesses. Hospice care provides compassionate care for people in the last phases of incurable disease so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible.”

Hospice care is started when a disease becomes so advanced that treatment can no longer cure or control it. This time duration of hospice care may vary for different diseases and even different areas around the world. But on average, it is started when a person is expected to live for about 6 months or less.

To get hospice care, you generally need to apply for a hospice program or contact a hospice provider. These can be reached out by the help of your doctor, case manager, an agency, insurance company, or your hospital discharge planner.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, many things have changed and so has the field of medicine and health. Telehealth has become a very beneficial option and a vital resource during this global pandemic. Telehealth is also being used for hospice care. Temporary regulatory waivers have been issued by officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They have specified that,

“Face-to-face encounters for purposes of patient recertification for the Medicare hospice benefit can now be conducted via telehealth (i.e., 2-way audio-video telecommunications technology that allows for real-time interaction between the hospice physician/hospice nurse, practitioner and the patient).”

This telehealth system allows physicians and other clinicians some flexibility in providing care while protecting their families, patients, and health workers from COVID-19. Apart from this, other beneficial uses of hospice telehealthcare are:

  • Improvement in access to care.
  • Reduction in the cost of providing care
  • Shorten the duration of travel
  • Improvement in clinical outcomes
  • Increased satisfaction of the patient and family

However, it is to be kept in mind that patients and family members who are utilizing hospice care may find it difficult to transition to the telehealth system while dealing with a terminal illness. It is natural that the patient and involved family members feel overwhelmed and find the whole process of learning how to use the telehealth system as an additional burden.

For this purpose, the telehealth hospice providers need to be well-prepared and have a well-thought-out plan for bringing the patient, family members, and hospice team on board. Clear technical guidance and an empathetic support approach are the two key aspects to make the transition to telehealth smoother. In addition to this, a multidisciplinary support team would also prove to be very helpful.

The hospice care system has seen large shifts in the hospice care landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey was conducted by the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) and it was found out that approximately 61% of agencies responding had admitted patients with COVID-19 to their hospice service.

This survey reveals that hospice telehealth is reaching new limits and has become the need of the hour during this pandemic and more and more people are now being open to the idea of telehealth hospice care system.

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