J Palliat Care. 2021 Mar 18:8258597211001184. doi: 10.1177/08258597211001184. Online ahead of print.
Palliative care encompasses supportive health care for patients at any stage of illness aimed at relieving symptoms, controlling pain, managing stress, offering respite for caregivers, and optimizing the quality of life. To explore strategies for increasing access to palliative care among individuals living in remote/rural communities, a rapid review was conducted on studies that explored the use of telehealth applications with this population. From December 2019 to February 2020, the PRISMA methodology was used to gather peer-reviewed studies published in the English language. MedLine, Google Scholar, and EBSCO were searched; no date limitations were set. Given the diversity of study methodologies and outcomes, the findings were synthesized narratively. The Cochrane Collaboration’s tool for assessing the risk of bias was also employed. Lastly, the studies were mapped to clinical guidelines for the various aspects of quality palliative care. The 18 studies found, published between 2004 and 2019, were conducted in seven countries and on five continents. Aims included evaluating feasibility, efficacy, and user satisfaction. Insights draw from a combined pool of 3,313 patients and 250 providers. Most studies involved oncology patients and employed videoconferencing or a web platform/online software with videoconferencing. Three themes emerged: delivery of care, symptom management and quality of life, and patient/caregiver/provider satisfaction levels. Telehealth proved effective for patient and medication monitoring, provider and specialist appointments, and palliative care consultations. Operational benefits included clinician time saved, shorter appointment wait times, and reduced no show rates; implementation challenges also emerged. Statistical improvements in quality of life and symptom management were reported. Nearly two-thirds of the studies reported positive experiences among patients, caregivers, and providers; about half included an interprofessional team. The studies primarily focused on the structure/process and physical aspects of quality palliative care, there was a paucity of insights on the spiritual, cultural, end of life, and ethical/legal aspects of care. Two-thirds (12/18) of the studies employed a descriptive design. Risk for selection, performance, detection, and reporting biases emerged for all the studies; for example, only four of the studies included control groups and less than 20% (3/18) reported on attrition of study participants. Additional limitations include the rapid review methodology which relied heavily on the lead author’s decisions and the restriction of studies published only in the English language. More rigorous research is required to confirm the viability of clinical care delivery and establish best practices for quality, virtual palliative care to remote/rural areas.