Purpose: Social support is an important factor in reducing caregiver burden, however, accessing social support via traditional means is often challenging for family caregivers of hospice patients. Online support groups may offer an effective solution. The present study sought to understand dynamics of online social support among family and other informal (e.g., friends) caregivers of hospice cancer patients in an online social support group. The primary aim of the study was to identify types of online social support and support-seeking behaviors, with a secondary aim to understand informal hospice caregivers’ preferences for social support.
Method: Data used in this study were collected as part of a federally funded randomized clinical trial of an informal hospice cancer caregiver support intervention. Findings are based on directed and conventional content analysis of support group members' posts and comments—including text and images—and a sample of caregivers’ exit interviews.
Results: Analyses demonstrated that the majority of online support provided by group members was emotional support, followed by companionship support, appraisal support, and informational support. Instrumental support was rarely provided. Support was primarily elicited in an indirect manner through self-disclosure and patient updates, with few overt requests for support.
Conclusions: Findings suggest online social support groups can be a valuable resource for informal caregivers who are in need of emotional support and lack the ability to access face-to-face support groups. Clinical implications of this research to healthcare systems regarding the importance of incorporating nurses and other medical professionals as co-facilitators of online support groups are discussed.
The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to high numbers of critically ill and dying patients in need of expert management of dyspnea, delirium, and serious illness communication. The rapid spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome-Coronavirus-2 creates surges of infected patients requiring hospitalization and puts palliative care programs at risk of being overwhelmed by patients, families, and clinicians seeking help. In response to this unprecedented need for palliative care, our program sought to create a collection of palliative care resources for nonpalliative care clinicians. A workgroup of interdisciplinary palliative care clinicians developed the Palliative Care Toolkit, consisting of a detailed chapter in a COVID-19 online resource, a mobile and desktop Web application, one-page guides, pocket cards, and communication skills training videos. The suite of resources provides expert and evidence-based guidance on symptom management including dyspnea, pain, and delirium, as well as on serious illness communication, including conversations about goals of care, code status, and end of life. We also created a nurse resource hotline staffed by palliative care nurse practitioners and virtual office hours staffed by a palliative care attending physician. Since its development, the Toolkit has helped us disseminate best practices to nonpalliative care clinicians delivering primary palliative care, allowing our team to focus on the highest-need consults and increasing acceptance of palliative care across hospital settings.
BACKGROUND: Failure to deliver care near the end of life that reflects the needs, values and preferences of patients with advanced cancer remains a major shortcoming of our cancer care delivery system.
METHODS: A mixed-methods comparative effectiveness trial of in-person advance care planning (ACP) discussions versus web-based ACP is currently underway at oncology practices in Western Pennsylvania. Patients with advanced cancer and their caregivers are invited to enroll. Participants are randomized to either (1) in-person ACP discussions via face-to-face visits with a nurse facilitator following the Respecting Choices® Conversation Guide or (2) web-based ACP using the PREPARE for your care™ web-based ACP tool. The trial compares the effect of these two interventions on patient and family caregiver outcomes (engagement in ACP, primary outcome; ACP discussions; advance directive (AD) completion; quality of end-of-life (EOL) care; EOL goal attainment; caregiver psychological symptoms; healthcare utilization at EOL) and assesses implementation costs. Factors influencing ACP effectiveness are assessed via in-depth interviews with patients, caregivers and clinicians.
DISCUSSION: This trial will provide new and much-needed empirical evidence about two patient-facing ACP approaches that successfully overcome limitations of traditional written advance directives but entail very different investments of time and resources. It is innovative in using mixed methods to evaluate not only the comparative effectiveness of these approaches, but also the contexts and mechanisms influencing effectiveness. Data from this study will inform clinicians, payers and health systems seeking to adopt and scale the most effective and efficient ACP strategy in real-world oncology settings.
BACKGROUND: Advance care planning is the process of discussing health care treatment preferences based on patients' personal values, and it often involves the completion of advance directives. In the first months of 2020, a novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), began circulating widely in the American state of Colorado, leading to widespread diagnosis of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), hospitalizations, and deaths. In this context, the importance of technology-based, non-face-to-face methods to conduct advance care planning via patient portals has increased.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to determine the rates of use of a web-based advance care planning tool through a health system-based electronic patient portal both before and in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
METHODS: In 2017, we implemented web-based tools through the patient portal of UCHealth's electronic health record (EHR) for patients to learn about advance care planning and complete an electronically signed medical durable power of attorney (MDPOA) to legally appoint a medical decision maker. Patients accessing the portal can complete and submit a legally valid MDPOA, which becomes part of their medical record. We collected data on the patients' date of MDPOA completion, use of advance care planning messaging, age, sex, and geographic location during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic (December 29, 2019, to May 30, 2020).
RESULTS: Over a 5-month period that includes the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado, total monthly use of the advance care planning portal tool increased from 418 users in January to 1037 users in April and then decreased slightly to 815 users in May. The number of MDPOA forms submitted per week increased 2.4-fold after the stay-at-home order was issued in Colorado on March 26, 2020 (P<.001). The mean age of the advance care planning portal users was 47.7 years (SD 16.1), and 2206/3292 (67.0%) were female. Women were more likely than men to complete an MDPOA, particularly in younger age groups (P<.001). The primary use of the advance care planning portal tools was the completion of an MDPOA (3138/3292, 95.3%), compared to sending an electronic message (148/3292, 4.5%). Over 50% of patients who completed an MDPOA did not have a prior agent in the EHR.
CONCLUSIONS: Use of a web-based patient portal to complete an MDPOA increased substantially during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado. There was an increase in advance care planning that corresponded with state government shelter-in-place orders as well as public health reports of increased numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Patient portals are an important tool for providing advance care planning resources and documenting medical decision makers during the pandemic to ensure that medical treatment aligns with patient goals and values.
Fewer than one-third of US residents have completed an advance directive (AD) to guide care when seriously ill. Clinician-focused efforts to increase AD completion, such as Medicare payments for advance care planning (ACP), have been ineffective. In contrast, patient-facing interventions that enable independent completion of ADs show early promise. Self-service platforms also reveal changes in demand for ADs and preferences for future care. We sought to quantify changes in patient completion of ADs and expressed preferences during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic by monitoring users of a web-based AD platform from January 2019 to April 2020.
BACKGROUND: Digital tools to document care preferences in serious illnesses are increasingly common, but their impact is unknown. We developed a web-based advance directive (AD) featuring (1) modular content eliciting detailed care preferences, (2) the ability to electronically transmit ADs to the electronic health record (EHR), and (3) use of nudges to promote document transmission and sharing.
OBJECTIVE: To compare a web-based, EHR-transmissible AD to a paper AD.
METHODS: Patients with gastrointestinal and lung malignancies were randomized to the web or paper AD. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients with newly documented advance care plans in the EHR at 8 weeks. Secondary outcomes assessed through an e-mail survey included the change in satisfaction with end-of-life plans, AD acceptability, and self-reported sharing with a surrogate.
RESULTS: Ninety-one participants were enrolled: 46 randomly allocated to the web AD and 45 to paper. Thirteen patients assigned to web AD (28%) had new documentation versus 7 (16%) assigned to paper (P = .14). Adjusted for demographic factors and primary diagnosis, the odds ratio of new documentation with web AD was 3.7 (95% CI: 0.8-17.0, P = .10). Satisfaction with advance care planning and AD acceptability were high in both groups and not significantly different. Among patients completing web ADs, 79% reported sharing plans with their caregivers, compared with 65% of those completing paper ADs (P = .40).
CONCLUSION: Web-based ADs hold promise for promoting documentation and sharing of preferences, but larger studies are needed to quantify effects on these intermediate end points and on patient-centered outcomes.
Objective: To describe the landscape of digital resources available for grief and bereavement, and to explore cultural variations through the analysis of patterns in three languages with a multinational repartition (English, French and Spanish).
Methods: For each language, websites were collected through a systematized approach and classified according to their category (governmental, health, educational, social media, conventional media, spiritual), their country of origin, and the type of support they offered (practical support, services, peer support, informational support, resources).
Results: A total of 2587 websites (English: 1003; French 678; Spanish: 906) were analyzed. Cultural variations were observed both for the websites’ categories and the types of support. Half of the websites presented at least one type of support, informational support being the most prevalent, followed by practical support. English websites presented significantly more support than Spanish websites, with French websites in between.
Practice implications: By using an extensive survey, our results allow for a general mapping of online websites that is comparable across languages, but also unveil digital dynamics unknown to date. These results further the multicultural understanding of digital support for grief and bereavement, propose an innovative and operational typology for online support and raise awareness of the current support landscape.
The loss of a family member or friend can have profound psychological and physical implications, particularly for individuals without bereavement support services. Online support groups can be an effective means of extending services beyond the traditional modes of delivery. This is especially true for populations that include isolated individuals and those with limited support networks, limited transportation, challenging time commitments, or reside in communities with limited services available. The literature over the last 10 years was reviewed to discern the potential opportunities and challenges of providing online bereavement support group services. Discussed are challenges for recruitment of participants, availability of technology resources, addressing privacy and confidentiality issues, participants’ knowledge of technical equipment, legal considerations, ethical considerations, accessibility, and other best practices. Diverse populations such as adolescents, older adults, and rural communities must be uniquely considered when using online support groups.
BACKGROUND: Family caregivers of patients with severe illness and in need for a palliative care approach, face numerous challenges and report having insufficient preparedness for the caregiver role as well as a need for information and psychosocial support. Preparing to care for a severely ill family members also means becoming aware of death. Feelings of being prepared are associated with positive aspects and regarded protective against negative health consequences.
METHODS: The study adheres to the SPIRIT-guidelines (Supplementary 1), uses a pre-post design and include a web-based intervention. Inclusion criteria are; being a family caregiver of a patient with severe illness and in need of a palliative care approach. The intervention which aims to increase preparedness for caregiving and death is grounded in theory, research and clinical experience. The topics cover: medical issues, symptoms and symptom relief; communication within the couple, how to spend the time before death, being a caregiver, planning for the moment of death and; considerations of the future. The intervention is presented through videos and informative texts. The website also holds an online peer-support discussion forum. Study aims are to: evaluate feasibility in terms of framework, content, usage and partners' experiences; explore how the use of the website, influences family caregivers' preparedness for caregiving and death; explore how the use of the website influences family caregivers' knowledge about medical issues, their communication with the patient and their considerations of the future; and to investigate how the family caregivers' preparedness for caregiving and death influences their physical and psychological health and quality of life 1 year after the patient's death. Data will be collected through qualitative interviews and a study-specific questionnaire at four time-points.
DISCUSSION: This project will provide information about whether support via a website has the potential to increase preparedness for caregiving and death and thereby decrease negative health consequences for family caregivers of patients affected by severe illness. It will provide new knowledge about intervention development, delivery, and evaluation in a palliative care context. Identification of factors before death and their association with family caregivers' preparedness and long-term health may change future clinical work.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: The study is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT03676283.
PURPOSE: Online programs may help to engage patients in advance care planning in outpatient settings. We sought to implement an online advance care planning program, PREPARE (Prepare for Your Care; http://www.prepareforyourcare.org), at home and evaluate the changes in advance care planning engagement among patients attending outpatient clinics.
METHODS: We undertook a prospective before-and-after study in 15 primary care clinics and 2 outpatient cancer centers in Canada. Patients were aged 50 years or older (primary care) or 18 years or older (cancer care) and free of cognitive impairment. They used the PREPARE website over 6 weeks, with reminders sent at 2 or 4 weeks. We used the 55-item Advance Care Planning Engagement Survey, which measures behavior change processes (knowledge, contemplation, self-efficacy, readiness) on 5-point scales and actions relating to substitute decision makers, quality of life, flexibility for the decision maker, and asking doctors questions on an overall scale from 0 to 21; higher scores indicate greater engagement.
RESULTS: In total, 315 patients were screened and 172 enrolled, of whom 75% completed the study (mean age = 65.6 years, 51% female, 35% had cancer). The mean behavior change process score was 2.9 (SD 0.8) at baseline and 3.5 (SD 0.8) at follow-up (mean change = 0.6; 95% CI, 0.49-0.73); the mean action measure score was 4.0 (SD 4.9) at baseline and 5.2 (SD 5.4) at follow-up (mean change = 1.2; 95% CI, 0.54-1.77). The effect size was moderate (0.75) for the former and small (0.23) for the latter. Findings were similar in both primary care and cancer care populations.
CONCLUSIONS: Implementation of the online PREPARE program in primary care and cancer care clinics increased advance care planning engagement among patients.
This special issue entitled “Futures of Digital Death: Mobilities of Loss and Commemoration” explores the topic of digital death and how technologies are reconfigured by and reconfiguring social relationships with the deceased and dying loved ones as well as the larger ecosystem supporting such relationships. This Introduction article starts with an overview of the past research on digital death intended to provide a relevant context for the five papers included in this issue. Then, we reflect on how the current papers, or the present research, build on the past and can be used to address existing gaps and to inform future new research directions in order to move the field forward.
Research is needed to examine new and innovative web-based intervention delivery methods that are feasible, cost-effective, and acceptable to children and their families to increase access to palliative care services in the home and community. Our previous work included the development of a legacy intervention using face-to-face digital storytelling for children with cancer that showed feasibility and strong promise to improve child outcomes. However, face-to-face intervention delivery techniques limited our recruitment, thus decreasing sample size and potential access to broader populations. Here we present the systematic steps of the development of a web-based legacy intervention for children (7-17 years of age) with relapsed or refractory cancer and their parent caregivers. Counts and frequencies for parent (n = 81) reports on satisfaction surveys are presented and parent suggestions for future work. Results suggest the web-based legacy intervention is feasible and acceptable, with parent-perceived beneficial outcomes for the child, parent, and family. Results provide a foundation for web-based intervention development in palliative care and the implementation of a theoretically grounded intervention to reduce suffering of seriously ill children and their family members, thereby advancing the science of symptom management in vulnerable palliative care populations.
PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Family caregivers of patients with cancer often spend a great deal of effort on physically and emotionally demanding work while taking care of patients. However, the majority of caregivers are not properly equipped for their role as caregivers, which may lead to increased distress in both caregivers and patients. Herein, we reviewed the recent literature (last 3 years) examining online interventions that seek to support caregiver resilience and decrease distress.
RECENT FINDINGS: Our search identified interventions involving three main themes: informational support, positive activities, and social support. These are mostly in the form of web-based tools and mobile apps targeting both usability and quality of life. Social network services are also considered in this review as a new environment for caregivers to connect with other individuals with lived experience in similar circumstances.
SUMMARY: Existing studies on online interventions to support caregivers is still at a formative development stage and pilot tests of feasibility, rather than a substantive body of randomized controlled trials to assess the impact in different user populations, or to determine specific factors that impact caregiver distress level or resilience. More research is needed to further assess the long-term effects of online interventions on caregiver stress and resilience. Also, the role of different types of social network services and new forms of interaction, such as conversational agents, has not yet been fully investigated in caregiver populations. Future research should strive to seek new modes of providing services that may present novel opportunities to enhance caregiver resilience and reduce distress.
BACKGROUND: Primary care clinics need sustainable, population-based approaches to engage patients in advance care planning (ACP). Patient portal-based ACP tools may provide an option for patient engagement.
OBJECTIVE: To increase ACP outcomes by engaging older adults through portal-based ACP tools, including an electronic Medical Durable Power of Attorney (MDPOA) form.
METHODS: Geriatric clinic pilot of a multi-modal population-based outreach strategy for portal-based ACP tools. Outreach was to patients (n = 105) who were 65 years and older with an active portal account, no cognitive impairment, and no MDPOA on file. Patients received a motivational message via the portal and, if not read within 2 weeks, a mailed postcard about the portal-based ACP tools. Primary outcome was composite of any ACP action at 1-year including 1) new advance directive (AD) in the electronic health record, 2) use of portal-based ACP tools, or 3) documented ACP discussion with a provider.
RESULTS: Sixty-five older adults read the electronic message at 12 months. Seventeen (16%) engaged in at least 1 ACP action. Fourteen of 17 engaged by adding an AD to their record. More patients completed an AD on article or brought a previously completed AD to clinic, compared with choosing to complete an electronic MDPOA via the portal.
CONCLUSIONS: Brief motivational messages about ACP via a patient portal is feasible and may increase ACP outcomes for older adults in primary care. Future studies should evaluate population-based portal outreach strategies in combination with team-based workflows to enhance patient engagement in ACP.
INTRODUCTION: Palliative care is a clinically and cost-effective component of cancer services in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Despite the significant need for palliative cancer care in SSA, coverage remains inadequate. The exploration of digital health approaches could support increases in the quality and reach of palliative cancer care services in SSA. However, there is currently a lack of any theoretical underpinning or data to understand stakeholder drivers for digital health components in this context. This project addresses this gap through engaging with key stakeholders to determine data and information needs that could be supported through digital health interventions.
METHODS AND ANALYSIS: This is a multicountry, cross-sectional, qualitative study conducted in Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In-depth interviews will be conducted in patients with advanced cancer (n=20), caregivers (n=15), health professionals (n=20) and policy-makers (n=10) in each of the three participating countries. Data from a total of 195 interviews will transcribed verbatim and translated into English before being imported into NVivo software for deductive framework analysis. The analysis will seek to understand the acceptability and define mechanisms of patient-level data capture and usage via digital technologies.
ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: Ethics approvals have been obtained from the Institutional Review Boards of University of Leeds (Ref: MREC 18-032), Research Council of Zimbabwe (Ref: 03507), Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe (Ref: MRCZ/A/2421), Uganda Cancer Institute (Ref: 19-2018), Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (Ref: HS325ES) and College of Medicine University of Lagos (Ref: HREC/15/04/2015). The project seeks to determine optimal mechanisms for the design and development of subsequent digital health interventions to support development, access to, and delivery of palliative cancer care in SSA. Dissemination of these findings will occur through newsletters and press releases, conference presentations, peer-reviewed journals and social media.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: ISRCTN15727711.
Because of the growing population of patients with serious illness, the demand for specialty palliative care exceeds the resources available. Nurses must be prepared to provide primary palliative care to fill the gap in the availability of specialized palliative care providers. However, meeting the educational needs of a vast number of practicing nurses poses a significant challenge. Often, institutions are limited in the financial and staffing support that they can contribute for continuing nursing education, especially when the training requires staff to spend substantial time away from work. In order to address this issue, one large medical center conducted a study to examine the educational and clinical practice outcomes of offering an online version of the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium Core Curriculum to nearly 100 nurses. The participants were divided into 2 groups. Group 1 received online education only, whereas the other group received the online education plus a 3-hour face-to-face training session. Both groups reported statistically significant improvements in symptom management and communication skills, with no significant difference between the pedagogical approaches. Most importantly, the education resulted in a statistically significant impact on the nurses’ clinical practice. The results of this study demonstrate that online education can be used as an effective and efficient strategy to provide primary palliative care education to a large number of nurses.
The new technologies have changed the rituals related to death: Creation of memorial webpages and of virtual tombs, celebration of death anniversaries are now common currency on the Internet. In spite of their disappearance among the living, the deceased continue to exist on the Web. They still receive messages from their relatives but also from strangers and are at the heart of discussions, prolonging their presence. New technologies have led to a new concept of time and of “where life ends.” Through the analysis of Facebook’s accounts devoted to Turkish martyrs, this article aimed to describe the new funeral rituals seen on the Internet.
BACKGROUND: In several studies, investigators have successfully used an internet-enabled PAINReportIt tablet to allow patients to report their pain to clinicians in real-time, but it is unknown how acceptable this technology is to patients and caregivers when used in their homes.
OBJECTIVE: The aims of this study were to examine computer use acceptability scores of patients with end-stage cancer in hospice and their caregivers and to compare the scores for differences by age, gender, race, and computer use experience.
INTERVENTION/METHODS: Immediately after using the tablet, 234 hospice patients and 231 caregivers independently completed the Computer Acceptability Scale (maximum scores of 14 for patients and 9 for caregivers).
RESULTS: The mean (SD) Computer Acceptability score was 12.2 (1.9) for patients and 8.5 (0.9) for caregivers. Computer Acceptability scores were significantly associated with age and with previous computer use for both patients and caregivers.
CONCLUSIONS: This technology was highly acceptable to patients and caregivers for reporting pain in real time to their hospice nurses.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Findings provide encouraging results that are worthy of serious consideration for patients who are in end stages of illness, including older persons and those with minimal computer experience. Increasing availability of technology can provide innovative methods for improving care provided to patients facing significant cancer-related pain even at the end of life.
OBJECTIVES: To examine the effect of mode of survey administration on response rates and response tendencies for the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) Hospice Survey and develop appropriate adjustments.
DESIGN: Survey response data were obtained after sampling and fielding of the CAHPS Hospice Survey in 2015. Sampled caregivers and decedents were randomized to one of three modes: mail only, telephone only, and mixed mode (mail with telephone follow-up). Linear regression analysis was used to examine the effect of mode on individual responses to questions (6 composite measures and 2 global measures that examine hospice quality).
SETTING: U.S. hospice programs (N = 57).
PARTICIPANTS: Primary caregivers of individuals who died in hospice (N = 7,349).
MEASUREMENTS: Outcomes were 8 hospice quality measures (6 composite measures, 2 global measures). Analyses were adjusted for differences in case-mix (e.g., decedent age, payer for hospice care, primary diagnosis, length of final episode of hospice care, respondent age, respondent education, relationship of decedent to caregiver, survey language, and language spoken at home) between hospices.
RESULTS: Response rates were 42.6% for those randomized to mail only, 37.9%, for those randomized to telephone only, and 52.6% for those randomized to mixed mode (P < .001 for difference). There were significant mode effects (P < .05) for 10 of the 24 questions that compose the quality measures, with mail-only respondents being significantly more likely to report better experiences than telephone-only respondents.
CONCLUSION: Unlike results observed in previous mode experiments for hospital CAHPS, hospice primary caregivers tend to respond more negatively by telephone than by mail. Valid comparisons of hospice performance require that reported hospice scores be adjusted for survey mode.