Technology is changing the way hospice care is delivered, with hospices using virtual reality to train staff and soothe patients, and telehealth to deliver palliative care to rural communities. A recent article in Hospice News describes how technologies such as predictive analytics, telemedicine systems, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are being used.

Pain Management

“Virtual reality is going to be very powerful from a pain management perspective. We are already seeing it in clinical testing of the patient experience,” Nick Westfall, CEO of VITAS Healthcare, reportedly said at the Home Health Care News Summit conference in Chicago in September. “It is extremely powerful, even in terms [of] how you educate your workforce.”

For example, VITAS Healthcare is working with AT&T to develop therapies using 5G virtual reality technology to address chronic pain and anxiety among hospice patients, said the article.

Staff Training

In addition, increasing numbers of hospice providers are using virtual reality (VR) to train their staff. At the Hospice of Southern Maine, employees use VR technology to become Clay, a 66-year-old veteran with stage IV, incurable lung cancer—and to learn about the process of hospice.

Telehospice

Telehospice, especially in rural areas, is saving costs and improving care. A project of the University of Kansas Medical Center, in collaboration with Hospice Services, Inc. and Palliative Care of Northwest Kansas, Inc., enabled 218 telehospice video encounters involving 917 participants, including staff and patients between August 2017 and January 2018. A study found that TeleHospice calls saved money and may strengthen the communication and relationships between staff, patients, and the patient’s family.
 
A year ago, Aspire Health launched a telehealth palliative care service focusing on the sickest 1% of patients in rural areas. Most care is delivered by telephone, to meet patients' preferences. The program strives to keep patients in their homes and to manage symptoms. Social workers lead care teams, supported by registered nurses or nurse case managers and by physicians when needed.
 
“The purpose of the program is to help patients and families know what their choices are to, first, formulate what their goals of care might be according to their own values and how they want to navigate the last year or two or their lives, and what they want their lives to look like and what they want their health care to look like,” Emily Cook, chief clinical operations officer for Aspire Health and affiliated primary care provider CareMore Health, told Hospice News.