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Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ:

iPads Connect Hospice Patients To Nurses

Kimberly Shea, University of Arizona

End-of-life care is a difficult time for both patients and their families. And if an individual is managing a terminal illness at home, it can also be hard to get prompt medical help. This is especially true in rural areas, where a hospital may be a long drive away.

A professor at the University of Arizona wants to provide hospice patients with better access to nurses.

Kimberly Shea was a hospice nurse for 15 years, providing at-home care to patients with only a short time left to live.

“I was on-call, driving around in the middle of the night trying to see patients,” Shea said.

And often, before she could arrive, family members or other caregivers would get worried.

“They are afraid,” Shea said. “It’s in the middle of the night. They’re anxious.”

So Shea had an idea to use video to quickly connect patients with nurses. She tested this idea in a pilot project last year. She gave iPad mini tablets to 12 patients and their caregivers. The tablets are equipped with an app that allows secure video chats with a nurse.

“We use the iPad kind of like an eye, if you will,” Shea said. “We ask to see the patient. We ask to see the medications that you have in the home. We ask to see the environment. Is the head of the bed up? Or is the oxygen set to the right amount?”

A nurse still would visit the patient, if needed. But many times, symptoms like breathlessness, nausea, anxiety or pain could be addressed remotely – and sooner – with the help of a caregiver in the home.

Shea found the video connection with a nurse also helped caregivers feel more confident.  

This year, Shea applied for funds to expand the trials. She’s also advocating for a state law that would help reimburse health care providers for this type of home service.

Shea presented her research at Yuma Regional Medical Center on March 15. The talk was sponsored by the Yuma Friends of The University of Arizona Health Science Center.