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Open Access Research article

Transmural palliative care by means of teleconsultation: a window of opportunities and new restrictions

Jelle van Gurp1*, Martine van Selm2, Evert van Leeuwen3 and Jeroen Hasselaar1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesiology, Pain and Palliative Care, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, Geert Grooteplein 10, Nijmegen, GA 6525, Netherlands

2 Amsterdam School of Communication Research, University of Amsterdam, Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam, CX 1012, Netherlands

3 Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, Geert Grooteplein 21, Nijmegen, EZ 6525, Netherlands

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BMC Medical Ethics 2013, 14:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-14-12

Published: 7 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Audio-visual teleconsultation is expected to help home-based palliative patients, hospital-based palliative care professionals, and family physicians to jointly design better, pro-active care. Consensual knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of teleconsultation in transmural palliative care is, however, largely lacking.

This paper aims at describing elements of both the physical workplace and the cultural-social context of the palliative care practice, which are imperative for the use of teleconsultation technologies.

Methods

A semi-structured expert meeting and qualitative, open interviews were deployed to explore professionals’ assumptions and wishes, which are considered to contain latent presumptions about the practice’s physical workplace and latent elements of the cultural-social context, regarding (1) the mediating potential of audio-visual teleconsultation, (2) how the audio-visual teleconsultations will affect medical practice, and (3) the design and usage of the teleconsultation technology. We used a qualitative analysis to investigate how palliative care professionals interpret the teleconsultation package in preparation. The analysis entailed open and axial coding techniques developed in a grounded theory approach.

Results

Respondents assume: 1. teleconsultation will hinder physical proximity, thereby compromising anamnesis and diagnosis of new or acutely ill patients as well as “real contact” with the person behind the patient; 2. teleconsultation will help patients becoming more of a pivotal figure in their own care trajectory; 3. they can use teleconsultation to keep a finger on the pulse; 4. teleconsultations have a healing effect of their own due to offered time and digital attention; 5. teleconsultation to open up an additional “gray” network outside the hierarchical structures of the established chain of transmural palliative care. This network could cause bypassing of caregivers and uncertainty about responsibilities; 6. teleconsultations lead to an extended flow of information which helps palliative care professionals to check the stories of patients and medical specialists.

Conclusions

Professionals assume teleconsultation co-defines a new patient–professional relationship by extending hospital-based caregivers’ perceptions of as well as attention for their patients. At the cost, however, of clinical and personal connectedness. Secondly, a hermeneutics is needed to carefully interpret teleconsultation images. Thirdly, teleconsultations transform caregiving cultures as formerly separated care domains collide, demanding a redefinition of roles and responsibilities.

Keywords:
Telecare; Audio-visual teleconsultations; Palliative care; Transmural care; Integrated health care; Mediation of professional-patient relations; Ethics; Philosophy of technology