Study: Telemedicine not optimal for palliative care

Telemedicine is not preferable for optimal palliative care, though patients do have a positive attitude toward using it, a new study published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health finds.

The basis of the study results were four semi-structured group interviews with 17 health professionals in three different palliative care teams in Denmark, taking place from 2009-2010.

According to the study, participants were concerned about the ethical and practical concerns of modern telecommunication; particularly, they felt strongly against permanent telemonitoring in the patient's home.

"We found that [professionals] perceived many advantages in telecommunication with a camera device, but mainly as a substitute or supplement to conventional telephone communication," study authors said. "They could not imagine that telecommunication could replace face-to-face communication because they found the physical encounter essential for establishing the necessary relationship with the patients, underlining that good communication is indispensable for high-quality palliative care."

In group interviews, participants expressed that good communication is essential to palliative care. None of the participants had much experience with telecommunication, other than talking on the phone. Having in person visits allows the caretaker to pick up on nonverbal information about the patient, like background, life circumstances, coping mechanisms, roles within the family and relations with other family members and whether their home is kept tidy.

"If ''modern telecommunication'' is to be implemented in palliative care, it is necessary to initiate a process where the professionals are involved in the development and implementation of the technology and where the form and use of the technology is individualized, in relation to both the patients and the setting, where also cultural and legal differences may exist," the study's authors concluded.

While momentum for the use of telemedicine in an everyday manner continues to build, there also are downsides to using such tools that must not be overlooked.

For instance, in addition to the oft broached issues of licensure and reimbursement, the identification of patient micro-expressions by mental health professionals can be a more difficult process when completed using video technology for teletherapy.

To learn more:
- read the study in Telemedicine and e-Health