You have probably heard about JeffConnect, Jefferson’s telemedicine platform that offers a variety of opportunities to give patients the care they need, wherever they need it. The options include remote second opinion, virtual stroke consultations at partnering hospitals through the Jefferson Neuroscience Network, and the on demand video visit app, among others.
But what you may not know is that palliative care, a multidisciplinary approach to providing patients with a serious illness relief from pain and physical and mental stress, and to improve their quality of life, is also a service that can be provided through telemedicine.
Jefferson began offering palliative care for patients of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in March of 2017. For many of these patients, travel may be difficult, or impossible, due to their condition. The ease of staying in the comfort of their own home or nursing facility is something that appealed to patients in need of palliative services.
Telemedicine visits are generally not used for initial visits, unless a patient is very ill. Physicians like to start a patient relationship with face to face contact and the ability to get a complete overview of the patient’s health. After that first visit, the palliative care team will offer the telemedicine option if they feel it is a good fit for the patient.
“We say, ‘look, you have a lot on your plate right now, and we need to make this work for you,’” said Dr. Brook Worster, Medical Director of the Neu Center for Supportive Medicine and Cancer Survivorship and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College. “We can easily triage things at home through a video appointment and actually visualize their settings to see if there are any barriers to their care in the home.”
Based on the virtual visit, physicians can often times make changes to the patient’s medication, or even deploy someone to the home for assistance.
In June of 2017, Dr. Worster and her colleague, Dr. Kristine Swartz, Co-Director, Senior Adult Oncology Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Sidney Kimmel Medical College, published a study in Current Oncology Reports about telemedicine’s increasing role in palliative care. Their conclusion noted that while telemedicine is still in its early stages, and may come with technical difficulties not encountered in face to face visits, it has enabled positive outcomes for the care of palliative patients, including “improved symptom control, and decreased use of emergency rooms and hospitalizations.”
The creation of the Neu Center for Supportive Medicine and Outpatient Cancer Survivorship allowed telemedicine for palliative care to become part of a plethora of integrated support options for cancer patients and families to utilize along the course of cancer care.