Supporting Patients and Their Caregivers After-Hours at the End of Life: The Role of Telephone Support
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Twenty-four hour access is accepted as a gold standard for palliative care service delivery, yet minimal data exist to justify the cost of this initiative to health care planners and policy makers. Further, there is scant information concerning optimal and efficient methods for delivering after-hours palliative care advice and support, particularly in regional and rural settings. This article reports on an evaluation of a local after-hours telephone support service in regional Australia. A centralized after-hours telephone support service was provided by generalist nurses at a Multipurpose Service in a rural community. A mixed-method evaluation, including semistructured interviews, was undertaken after 20 months of operation. During the period March 31, 2005 until November 15,2006, 357 patients were registered as part of the Mid North Coast Rural Palliative Care Program. Ten percent of patients or their caregivers accessed the After-Hours Telephone Support Service, representing 55 occasions of service. The most common reason for contacting the service was for reassurance surrounding medication usage, symptom management, and anxiety. This experience demonstrates proof of concept that acceptable palliative care advice can be provided by generalist nurses in a cost-efficient manner. Common patterns emerged in utilization that can assist in service planning and staffing formulae. There is also a need to investigate mechanisms of interfacing with larger scale call centres, to explore the differences within generic and disease-specific approaches and assess the appropriateness of after-hours telephone support with different cultural groups.
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