Is Telehealth the Future of Hospice?: Pros and Cons of Virtual vs. In-Person Care

A hospice patient visits with a doctor virtually through telehealth

The goal of palliative and hospice care is to help your loved one feel their best at the end of life. While many hospice care providers come to the patient for regular visits, what if a patient needs care at an unscheduled time or has a quick question about their condition that doesn’t warrant an in-person visit?

Telehealth grew steadily over the past decade as communication technology improved its capabilities and ease of use. With the coronavirus pandemic, this growth skyrocketed as patients, doctors and other healthcare workers communicated via online apps. Online communication can be beneficial for patients and healthcare providers alike.

Could telehealth be the future of hospice care, or can in-person visits ever be replaced?

How Could Telehealth Be Implemented into Hospice Care?

As healthcare providers implement telehealth into everyday use, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) released a best practices guideline for using telehealth in hospice and palliative care settings. This guideline acts as a checklist of ways hospice care providers can implement telehealth into their everyday work with patients.

Here are some examples of how telemedicine can specifically benefit patients and hospice care providers alike:

  • Monitoring patient health: A point of emphasis in implementing telehealth into hospice care is the ability to watch a patient’s health data constantly. An unusual activity can alert the hospice team immediately. This constant stream of patient data could grant peace-of-mind to a patient’s loved ones and the team.
  • Unscheduled visits or check-ins: If a patient experiences an episode or other health question, they can immediately contact their team without requiring an in-person visit. If their concern is severe enough, a team member can follow up.

Pros and Cons of Telehealth vs. In-Person Visits

While telehealth is improving and becoming easier to integrate into hospice practices, there are benefits and drawbacks to using this type of technology for care. 

Pros of Telehealth and Hospice Care

As healthcare providers advance and refine medical technology, applications like telehealth become more feasible for integration. 

  • Increased access: Whenever healthcare providers add telehealth to their service, patient access to the provider increases. Expanded access is especially crucial for hospice patients, as their health status may change suddenly. If a patient lives in a rural or remote area, they can have better access to their team, with less wait time.
  • Expands overall care: Telehealth isn’t a replacement for visits from the care team, but, rather, an expansion. It gives the hospice team a more in-depth analysis of the patient’s health and allows a palliative care provider to use its team more effectively.

Problems with Telehealth and Why In-Person Visits Are Still Vital to Hospice

While telehealth is an excellent expansion of hospice care, there are drawbacks to its implementation. Some challenges that telehealth faces are:

  • Technical difficulties in operating and maintaining telehealth devices and software: While hospice care isn’t focused solely on senior citizens, older adults make up most of the patient population. The patients need easy-to-use software and hardware. 

This goes for the team as well. Hospice care team members work hard to ensure that patients are getting excellent care. They need tech that is easy to streamline into their day-to-day work.

  • Lack of strong internet connection for the patient: Telehealth can be a double-edged sword for patients who live in rural or remote areas. In theory, telehealth visits can be great to get answers faster without waiting for an in-person visit. However, a high-speed internet connection may be more challenging to obtain in those areas, or a patient may not be able to afford it.
  • Limitations on assessment: Telehealth visits are limited to what the doctor or nurse can see through the device’s camera. While video conferencing technology is improving, it still can’t replace an in-person examination for more complex issues.

Many tools can seamlessly send a patient’s health information from their residence directly to their primary doctor and hospice team. Still, telehealth is not at a stage where it is reliable for complete care. It is now seen as a way to improve and expand the current model of care. 

In-person visits from caring and dedicated staff members can enhance the patient’s end-of-life care experience. The nurses, chaplains and caregivers offer aid and support that would otherwise be missing from a virtual experience. 

At Seasons Hospice, we are committed to using the best practices to accommodate our patients and assess their health so we can add life to their final days. Contact us today to learn more about our services or visit our resources page to learn more about end-of-life care, tips for aging and more.

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