Younger generations are facing more severe health challenges at earlier ages than previous generations, with about 44 percent of older millennials (born between 1981 and 1988) reporting that they have been diagnosed with at least one chronic health condition. As more people are diagnosed with serious illnesses, palliative care is well-positioned to provide support for the stresses and symptoms connected with chronic conditions and improve the care experience for people and their families.

Yet, a survey from Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention reveals that 89 percent of respondents had inadequate knowledge of palliative care. At the same time, access to palliative care resources remains heavily dependent on where a person lives. For example, the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) and the National Palliative Care Research Center reports that just 17 percent of rural hospitals have palliative care programs compared with 90 percent in cities.

But even for facilities with a palliative care department, staffing shortages continue to make it increasingly difficult to reach everyone that requires services. Research conducted even before COVID-19 projects a shortage of palliative care providers. In 2019, 7,618 physicians were board-certified in hospice and palliative medicine; however, researchers project the number of physicians will decline to 6,660 by 2033.

The pandemic has accelerated a new era for virtual care, reaching new heights beyond basic video visits to diagnose colds and rashes. Telemedicine has proven to eliminate common barriers that impact care access, which now makes palliative care accessible 24/7. Today, tech-enabled palliative care has emerged as a powerful tool to bridge in-person care gaps and help the growing number of people who can benefit from palliative care services.

Key benefits of virtual palliative care are numerous and include but are not limited to:

  • Prioritize end-of-life care preferences
  • Reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and ED visits
  • Coordinate care across multiple care settings
  • Decrease episode of care costs
  • Provide emotional, physical and spiritual support for people and their families
  • Success in value-based arrangements

In order to truly realize the absolute value of tech-enabled palliative care, integrating the following best practices can lead to elevated and enhanced outcomes.

Focus on Whole-Person Care

Chronic conditions impact a person’s physical, mental and spiritual health, and as such, care must extend beyond curative treatments. Successful tech-enabled palliative care is tailored to people’s individual needs and provides holistic care, making it a better experience for loved ones and those individuals under care.

Build Strong Relationships

Virtual palliative care still requires fostering relationships and prioritizing open and honest communication. Just like an in-person appointment, video calls allow providers to demonstrate compassion and empathy and provide people with a chance to become vulnerable and show their emotions during virtual visits. During these calls, be on the lookout for signs that the person needs help managing pain, symptoms and side effects.

Bring Different Care Teams Together

Interdisciplinary palliative care teams cannot operate in silos from a person’s current care team. Board-certified physicians, nurses, social workers, care managers and chaplains must work side-by-side with community-based organizations, primary care providers, specialists, individuals and their families to truly improve the experience. When all of these groups come together in collaboration, they can properly coordinate care, communicate effectively and provide high-quality and standardized treatment resources.

Consider Working with a Partner

Healthcare organizations can leverage tech-enabled palliative care without taking on the burden of building their own program or hiring enough staff to deliver services. By partnering with Vynca’s community-based palliative care team, hospitals and health systems are empowered to realize the potential of virtual care by receiving instant access to team-based palliative care interventions.

Telemedicine has opened up so many new possibilities when it comes to care delivery, helping individuals access clinical services that might have previously been impossible due to limited resources or geographic barriers. With this new approach to palliative care comes new opportunities to build new relationships and harness the power of care collaboration.

About the Author

Michael Fratkin, MD

Dr. Fratkin is the Chief Medical Officer of Vynca, and more importantly, a father, husband, brother, and son. Dr. Fratkin is dedicated to the well being of his community. Since completing his training, he has made his home and built his family in rural Northern California. He has served his community in primary care in a community clinic system, as a medical director of our local hospice, as a leader in the community hospital medical staff, and a transformative voice for improving the experience of people facing the end of life.

At a time of great demographic and cultural change in our society, Dr. Fratkin founded ResolutionCare (acquired by Vynca in 2021) to insure capable and soulful care of everyone, everywhere as they approach the completion of life.