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Telehealth in palliative care is being described but not evaluated: A systematic review

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Article number114
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>13/12/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>BMC Palliative Care
Issue number1
Number of pages15
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Telehealth is growing and its application in palliative care is seen as a solution to pressures on palliative care services. A 2010 UK review reported growing awareness of telehealth in palliative care but a lack of evidence-based research to support its use. The primary aim of this review was to describe the current use of telehealth in palliative care in the UK and evaluate telehealth initiatives against a digital service standard. The secondary aim was to explore whether telehealth results in a reduction in emergency care access.

Systematic review of the literature with thematic synthesis. Records were screened and data extracted by two reviewers. EMBASE, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Psychinfo and Cochrane central register for controlled trials were searched using pre-defined terms. Hand searching of conference literature, thesis databases and citation tracking was also conducted. The protocol for this systematic review was registered with PROSPERO and can be found at http://www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO/display_record.php?ID=CRD42017080038.

The search identified 3807 titles and 30 studies were included in the review. Telehealth was used to support patients and carers, electronic record keeping and professional education. Notably, the number of home telemonitoring initiatives for patients had increased from the 2010 review. Despite this variety, many studies were small scale, descriptive and provided little evidence of evaluation of the service. Ten papers were sufficiently detailed to allow appraisal against the digital service standard and only one of these met all of the criteria to some extent. Seven studies made reference to emergency care access.

Although there is growth of telehealth services, there remains a lack of evaluation and robust study design meaning conclusions regarding the clinical application of telehealth in palliative care cannot be drawn. There is insufficient evidence to appreciate any benefit of telehealth on access to emergency care. Future work is needed to evaluate the use of telehealth in palliative care and improve telehealth design in line with digital service standards.