California-based Hospice of Santa Cruz County has received a $166,895 grant from the Central California Alliance for Health to finance development of a new telehealth program for their palliative care patients, as well as a cohort of hospice patients.
The hospice provider serves nearly 3,500 patients annually in a range of communities from urban centers to rural areas and mountainous regions on the coast of central California near Silicon Valley,
The new telehealth program includes virtual visits through a video conferencing system, secure messaging between hospice staff and patients and families, as well as a smartphone and tablet application on a TapCloud platform. Hospice of Santa Cruz County will gradually expand the program during the next few months with full implementation expected to complete by autumn.
“The telemedicine program, which helps ensure continuity of care and the ability for patients to communicate with their care team, certainly increases patient confidence,” CEO Michael Milward told Hospice News. “It certainly is an advantage with the number of rural patients we have, and I think here in Santa Cruz County and across the country telemedicine makes a big difference for hard to access patients.”
The application will proactively highlight symptom management issues that patients might experience and will provide medication reminders. The app will prompt patients and families to check their medication and supplies to ensure they have enough. They can also request replenished supplies via the app.
The hospice chose to work with TapCloud after a vetting process that took place over several years. One of the more important features of the app is real-time video communication with the interdisciplinary care team, so patients or their families can be in immediate touch with a physician, nurse, social worker, volunteer or chaplain. Video conferencing is available to palliative care patients during business hours, whereas the hospice cohort will have 24/7 access.
“Nationwide, growth in telehealth outstripped growth in the use of urgent care centers between 2016 to 2017. For our primarily home-based patient population this is a great opportunity for us to enhance the services that we provide,” Chief Strategy Officer Kieran Shah told Hospice News. “Many of the patients that we serve are medically complex. This additional benefit of telehealth will allow us to proactively address any symptoms that they may be experiencing and increase access to our services and our clinicians.”
As the program progresses the hospice will be tracking rates of urgent care facility and emergency department visits among participating patients to measure any reductions. Allowing the patient to receive care in the home rather than going to urgent care helps meet patient needs, reduces health care costs and helps maximize the hospice’s return on investment, according to Hospice of Santa Cruz.
In addition to enhancing patient care, the hospice hopes the telemedicine program also will appeal to referral partners and physicians seeking hospice or palliative care providers for their patients.
“I think will appeal to providers when they consider whether palliative care is appropriate for their patients, especially homebound patients,” Shah said. “When they realize that telehealth is a part of our program I think that’s going to add value and instill confidence in both the provider and the patient.”