January 13, 2021
Effective remote communication with the patient and health care team was linked with better end-of-life care ratings from bereaved family members during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published online in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.
“Families are experiencing distress as a result of visitation policies, but it appears this stress can be mitigated to some degree by effective communication,” researchers wrote.
To protect patients from COVID-19, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented a no-visitation policy across all VA hospitals March 17, 2020. When a patient’s death was considered imminent, families were allowed in-person visits when possible, study authors explained.
Researchers evaluated after-death surveys of the next of kin for 328 veterans who died between March 17, 2020, and June 30, 2020, at 37 VA medical centers.
The percentage of those reporting excellent overall end-of-life care was significantly higher among those who deemed remote communication with the patient and health care team “very effective” compared with “mostly, somewhat, or not at all effective,” according to the study. Nearly 70% of respondents who rated their remote communication “very effective” reported excellent end-of-life care, compared with just 36% of the respondents who reported “mostly, somewhat, or not at all effective” remote communication.
“What we observed offers important lessons for end-of-life communication during the current pandemic, future pandemics, and other disasters,” researchers wrote, “as well as in situations when families lack the resources or ability to be physically present.”
Ersek M, Smith D, Griffin H, et al. End-of-life care in the time of COVID-19: Communication matters more than ever [published online ahead of print, 2021 Jan 4]. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2021;S0885-3924(20)30975-1. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2020.12.024