The need for palliative care has been highlighted throughout this blog, primarily focusing on the quality of life and cost savings perspectives. It is also essential to examine the palliative care provider shortage and how technology is advancing to address this problem as it continues to grow with the impending “silver tsunami.” For example, in California, only 0.9% of all physicians and 0.3% of nurses are certified in palliative care (1). When examined in the context of the needs of the population and comprehensive nature of palliative care, it is clear that technological solutions are needed.
Some general systems currently being used and researched include “remote monitoring devices, telephone, videoteleconferencing (VTC), and mobile devices” (1). Within these umbrellas, providers are able to deliver “out-of-hours telephone support, advice services, […] consultations, and assessments” (2). The discussion on these technological advances is a blog in of itself, but in general these programs allow patients to have access to their provider and other health services remotely. Many telehealth systems allow providers to serve a greater number of patients and meet the needs of patients who struggle to travel to clinics for evaluation (1).
A specific technological innovation that may be a significant game changer for palliative care is known as EIR (3). I wanted to highlight this tool specifically as it aims to address pain which is one of the most significant symptoms managed by palliative care and of personal interest to me and my doctoral project. The EIR software is used for pain monitoring and management (2). It serves the function of supplying the provider with a “summary of the patient’s condition along with suggestions for further investigation and recommended treatment” (3). The software is comprised of medical guidelines and information entered manually by the patient (3). By combining all of the information into one program, researchers hope to optimize symptom management and longevity of life (3).
Because of the lack of provider education in the field of palliative medicine, technology has and will continue to serve as a medium to expand the number of providers being trained on palliative care. Through applications and software, health care professionals have improved access to palliative care education and training (3). An example of a project actively using technology to educate health providers on palliative care is Project ECHO (1). The project aims to increase the number of individuals trained in palliative care to decrease the provider shortage in this specialty (1). Similarly, technology can increase research in the area of palliative medicine. Technology allows researchers to gather data and monitor outcomes in the palliative care population (4).
Some challenges met with advent of many of these technologies include concerns over privacy, security, and ease of use (2). Privacy and confidentiality are always a concern as technology can serve as possible break in the system, potentially exposing important and sensitive health information. As technology continues to advance, it is crucial that necessary precautions are always taken to ensure that information is encrypted and secure, minimizing the risk of information breaches (2). Furthermore, devices and programs need to have interfaces that are simple to learn to meet the needs of an already overburdened population (2). With the increase in technology’s presence in palliative care, it is also important to take a step back to address the issue of who is able to access and use these technologies. Lower income and vulnerable populations are less likely to have computer, tablets, smart phones, etc and therefore may not have access to the varying degrees of telemedicine (2). This of course further expands health disparities already burdening our communities (2). Finally, there is consistently a concern voiced over the “depersonalization” of care with the use of health technologies. These concerns are important for providers to address and ensure that they are still spending one-on-one time with patients in conjunction with touching base via telehealth.
Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- Ayers, K. J. (2015). Innovative use of technology for palliative care. Retrieved from http://www.onclive.com/web-exclusives/innovative-use-of-technology-for-palliative-care/1
- Reis, A., Pedrosa, A., Dourado, M., & Reis, C. (2013). Information and communication technologies in long-term and palliative care. Procedia Technology, 9(2013), 1303-1312. doi: 10.1016/j-protcy.2013.12.146.
- Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (2012). Palliative care congress showcases cutting edge technology. Retrieved from https://www.ntnu.edu/news/2012-news/palliative-care-congress
- Kamal, A. H., Swetz, K. M., Dy., S., Tien, A. Y., Temel, J. S., & Abernethy, A. P. (2012). Integrating technology into palliative care research. Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care, 6(00), 1-8. doi: 10.1097/SPC.0b013e32835998c6