How can technology improve end-of-life and palliative care?

Lessons from a Technology + Palliative Care Brainstorm with doctors, chaplains, and palliative health experts at the University of Colorado Denver.

Palliative care is a relatively new concept in the field of medicine. Historically, medicine has had a primarily curative goal. Yet, instead of focusing on curing a terminally diagnosed patient, palliative care provides relief from symptoms, pain, and associated mental stress.

As with most trends in healthcare, including palliative medicine, we’re seeing an increase in the use of technology to augment patient care. We’ve seen incredible projects and ideas such as smart pill dispensers, virtual group therapy, and others. But what about the intersection of palliative care and technology?

To explore this intersection further, I hosted a Tech + Palliative Care Brainstorm session in partnership with Dr. David Bekelman, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Denver Medical School. Assistant Professor Jenny Portz, Dr. Bekelman, and I published our findings in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

A snapshot of the technology + palliative health care brainstorm session at CU Denver.

The Session

We began our one-hour session with an independent brainstorm, and then switched into a small group discussion. Participants were given a set of initial examples to get them thinking, but were encouraged to “think big.”

The Ideas

The ideas varied widely, from better methods of understanding advance directives (what a patient wants in the case of incapacitation), or ways to encourage terminally ill patients to find meaningfulness in their lives. Here are four of the major trends we noticed during the brainstorm session:

  • Independence: Autonomy is an important part of making patients happy and feel in control of their own lives. Technology has an important role here: how can smart homes, smart watches, and other devices enable an older adult to feel comfortably independent?
  • Telling Their Story: At the end of life, it’s important for people to feel like they have a story — a fulfilling narrative that provides meaning to their lives. Technology has a variety of new media including virtual reality and voice-assisted technology that can enable older adults to record and share their personal narratives.
  • Loneliness: It’s hard to feel connected and easily to feel alone at the end of life. How can we use social media and voice-assisted technologies to help patients feel less isolated?
  • Communication with caregivers: There’s a huge network of individuals helping to make the lives of a particular terminally ill patient more bearable. Technology can help coordinate and connect the various caregivers (chaplains, family members, doctors, caretakers, etc.).

Moving Forward

There are already academic and entrepeneurial ventures exploring the intersection of technology and palliative care. However, there’s still a need for more innovation and deeper analysis of the fields.

What are the highest priority ways that technology can help with palliative care? Or, where are some areas that palliative care doesn’t need technological innovation? Check out the full list in our published journal article, or don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly!

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