The Medical University of South Carolina is working on a statewide palliative care telehealth program that is one of the first of its kind in the nation thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the Duke Endowment.
“I think this program is critical to South Carolina,” MUSC Palliative Care Director Patrick Coyne said. “South Carolina has historically been not doing well in the country.”
Palliative care is given to patients who have life-threatening illnesses, improving quality of life by managing pain and symptoms and making them comfortable and informed. The care extends to the patients’ families.
“We have a lot of opportunities to improve the care that’s given to those patients and their families with these life-threatening illnesses,” Coyne said. “And to help healthcare providers around the state get more knowledge for ways to be more effective in caring for those population of patients.”
Telehealth uses video feeds to connect doctors or specialists in larger cities with patients in smaller or rural areas.
“We have physicians. We have nurse practitioners. We have social workers. We have chaplains. We have acupuncturists. We have massage therapy. We just, kind of take care of the patient holistically instead of focusing on them medically,” MUSC Health palliative care program manager Lauren Seidenschmidt said. “We have a very strong program. We have a very robust program.”
Now MUSC can extend the offerings of its palliative care program to people in rural South Carolina.
“Us being able to bring that care to rural citizens in South Carolina . . . it’s going to be the best thing that we can get to them,” she said. “Get to them earlier and help them in their disease course of care.”
Coyne said the telehealth program will also help educate medical professionals in the methods MUSC uses in its own program. It will help establish relationships with rural health care facilities.
“Nationally there is a great shortage of palliative care clinicians and programs such as this help increase education about palliative care whenever we see patients,” Coyne said. “So that the care will be elevated wherever this program is established.
Duke Endowment leaders said MUSC received the grant due to its past success and expertise.
“Palliative care programs have demonstrated the ability to support patients with serious illness by improving pain and symptom management, reducing anxiety and depression, and increasing patient and family satisfaction,” the endowment’s health care director Lin Hollowell said. “By bringing an intentional focus on holistically meeting the needs of patients facing serious, life-threatening illnesses, this effort will improve care for people across South Carolina.”
Although the grant is for three years, Seidenschmidt and Coyne hope the program will be self-sustaining before the funding runs out.
Coyne said this is one of the first programs of its kind in the country. Access to palliative care remains inconsistent throughout the United States, including South Carolina.
Governor Henry McMaster signed a bill into law in May which would evaluate the state’s health care resources for seriously and terminally ill patients and established the state’s first Palliative Care and Quality of Life Study Committee.