Dr. Mumtaz Ali, Critical Care Specialist, HCG Cancer Centre Jaipur
Cancer is an ailment characterised by abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells that damages the surrounding healthy body tissues. Unexplained and sudden weight loss, fever, fatigue, pain, changes in skin, changes in bowel habits and bladder function and unusual bleeding or discharge are some of the most common and early signs of cancer. Although curable when detected early, cancer is a long-term, chronic condition that requires some patients to opt for palliative care.
Palliative care is referred to as the branch of care that works towards improving the quality of life of patients with a life-threatening, chronic ailment like cancer. It is offered either along with curative treatment or alone. It provides holistic care that aims to prevent or treat the signs of the disease or side effects of the treatment besides providing relief to psychological, social and other disease-induced issues. Palliative care can be offered in various settings – hospital, an outpatient clinic, a long-term care facility or at home under the supervision of a licensed healthcare provider.
Technology enhancing palliative care
Palliative care plays a significant role in enhancing the quality of life of not just the patients but also the caregivers. Advances in technology have now made the delivery of palliative care easy and productive. Here’s how technology can transform palliative care in the country.
· Telemedicine: The remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through telecommunications technology has emerged to be a game changer not just in terms of closing the gap in cancer treatment but also in palliative care for cancer. Healthcare providers and palliative care specialists have adopted telemedicine and are efficiently taking care of patients at home from the clinical sites with the help of video conferencing. These virtual visits have proved to be extremely efficient in meeting the needs of the patients without delay.
Telemedicine doesn’t just make care more accessible, but it is found that telemedicine to make palliative care affordable as well. Intervention of telemedicine in palliative care for cancer has shown significant improvement in the clinical status of the patients. Plus, it helps in compensating the poor patient to doctor ratio and considerably relieves the burden of the palliative care staff and doctors who are able to manage a greater number of patients through video conferences. It also eases the lives of caregivers who can easily reach out to doctors without having to step out of the house.
· Web-based health monitoring: The internet now provides access to several portals loaded with health information and video sessions by palliative care specialists focusing on what a caregiver should do and not do while taking care of cancer patients. This can play a significant role in enhancing end of life care. Several telemonitoring systems available on the web empowers patients, caregivers and palliative care providers to strategise self care ways and follow them under the guidance of a virtual specialist.
· Mobile applications: Utilisation of mobile applications in palliative care can transform the point of care significantly and drive towards enhanced patient participation in the treatment process. While earlier, patients have only been receivers in the conventional treatment process, now, with the use of several mobile applications, patients can now actively participate in the decision making regarding their treatment and more. Mobile applications have been found to considerably improve pain management among patients with cancer and make palliative care more patient centric.
· Electronic Health Record: Systematic collection and storage of data about patients’ health in digital format makes it extremely beneficial for the palliative care providers to monitor and keep track of patients’ health. A digital patient record can enable healthcare providers to apprehend a critical situation from prior and take immediate action. It also enables them to make palliative care customised based on each patient’s requirements and take care of the needy patients first.
How technology aided palliative care is beneficial for cancer patients?
Palliative care backed by technology can help patients in several ways:
● It bridges the distance gap, enabling the palliative care providers to tend to all patients irrespective of their location, thereby making palliative care more accessible.
● It makes palliative care more affordable.
● It enables patients and caregivers to adopt self-help ways under the guidance of a virtual specialist without having to worry about reaching one physically.
● It makes palliative care more patient centric and enables inclusion of patient participation in the treatment process.
● It relieves burden from the caregivers and palliative care providers and helps them to take care of a larger number of patients with limited resources.
Technology enabled palliative care can thereby revolutionise the end of life care and provide optimal respite to the patients of cancer.