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Technology is No Longer Impersonal When Helping Pets and Caregivers in Hospice Care

For Pet Parents, watching their beloved pet’s health decline is gut-wrenching. The choice to begin hospice care is born out of compassion and the pet parent has a support to team to help them with the process. The hospice and palliative veterinary care team can not only assist the pet in providing a level of comfort and peace but is also instrumental in helping the pet parent recognize the end-of-life process.  They can also be a source of comfort to a grieving family and can help them realize when it’s time to say goodbye. Technology, which can often be seen as cold and impersonal, can make this entire process more comfortable and better for everyone involved.

As a veterinary hospice and palliative caregiver, you know the importance of communication.  Thorough communication can make a big difference in the level and quality of end-of-life care.   During a very stressful situation, like the diagnosis of a terminal disease or dealing with severely aged pets, communication and important information or instructions can be forgotten or misunderstood in the height of emotions. Any tools that can be provided to pet parents to make communication easier and better are strongly beneficial.

According to the IAAHPC guidelines, “Effective communication skills are required for managing the physical needs of all animal hospice and palliative care patients. Animal hospice providers can encourage caregivers to effectively collect and regularly share information about their animal, in the forms of written accounts, photographs and/or video clips shared by email, phone calls or text messaging. Weekly communication with caregivers is usually adequate when patients are relatively stable. More frequent communication (daily and sometimes more than once daily) is necessary when the patient’s condition is unstable and changes rapidly.”1

The AVMA lists hospice care as one of the 5 ways that veterinarians can provide telehealth services.  According to the AVMA guide, “Hospice Care:  When the stress of a trip to the hospital might exacerbate a pet’s already-deteriorating health, telemedicine provides a convenient way to check in on senior patients or other patients under hospice care. This is especially helpful for feline patients or patients with impaired mobility when clients might otherwise forego a veterinary hospital visit. A telemedicine evaluation allows you to get a general sense of the pet’s overall wellbeing and determine whether treatment plans should be adjusted or an in-person exam is needed.”2

The BabelBark platform can meet the IAAHPC guidelines on communication rather efficiently and effectively.  The BabelBark App is an easy to use free app downloaded to the pet parents’ mobile device.  Once the pet parent saves their care providers and shares the pet’s profile with a simple tap, information about their pet is shared across the entire platform to all connected care providers.   The hospice and palliative care team can access the cloud-based BabelVet portal to conveniently view all their patients’ information in one place.

Many hospice providers agree that journaling is important!  According to Dr. Mary Gardner, BabelBark advisory board member and co-founder of Lap of Love, there are a number of quality of life scoring tools that pet parents should keep track of:   pain, appetite, incontinence, hygiene, mobility, and attitude, to name a few.3 This requires the pet owner to keep a detailed daily log of diet, activity, weight, pain scores, mood, lethargy, and other metrics that are then shared with the end of life care veterinary staff.  If the veterinary professional is managing more than one patient at a time, organizing each of these patients and their detailed records, including input from other care providers, can be tricky and time-consuming.  Also, patterns in behavior may be more difficult for a pet owner to see with traditional communication methods.

BabelBark’s asynchronous 2-way pet journal assists care providers and pet parents alike.  Better sharing of information can make for a better quality of life.  Imagine a patient new to palliative care. The pet parent has many concerns and questions. The conventional method of communicating with the veterinary team is to call the receptionist, leave messages, play phone-tag, and eventually speak to a team member. With BabelBark’s medical journal, the pet parent can enter updates about the pet’s condition, send a video of how the pet is acting, and get advice from their veterinary care team.  With many hospice and palliative care veterinarians being solo practitioners, finding time to respond to pet parent questions and concerns can be overwhelming.  By having a central place where pet parents can share information and ask questions the practitioner now has a time-saving tool that can reduce the stress on the care team.

Additionally, Babelbark is a platform that connects care providers. This enables detailed information about the pet to be shared among veterinary specialists, end of life care providers, and the pet owner.  Medical journal entries, a list of medications and compliance logs, diet, nutrition, and weight changes can be monitored.   For example, if a hospice patient visits a specialist or their general practice vet, and a new diet recommendation or medication is started, every member of their care team on the platform is notified in the medical journal.  This makes the continuity of care a breeze and results in coordinated care plans.

Since monitoring mobility, mood and pain are important, the use of an activity monitor worn by the pet can be very helpful to the care provider as well!   The BabelBark app, when synced with this Bluetooth device captures actual physical activity information and reports it to the pet owner and the care provider in an easy to read graph.  No longer will pet parent or the veterinary team have to “guess” how much activity the pet is getting.  Monitoring activity can also help assess response to therapies in diseases such as Cognitive Dysfunction.  Additionally, the data and graphs can give a visual representation of patterns important to determining effective pain management, mobility, and quality of life.

Many veterinary hospice and palliative care providers are often very busy professionals that spend much of the day in their car travelling to appointments.  The time in-between these appointments, is oftentimes, spent on the telephone.  The BabelBark platform can help streamline communication.   It seamlessly connects the client and the veterinarian under one central platform.  This makes getting patient updates, check-ins, and client questions much easier than sorting through hundreds of emails.  It can also help prioritize who needs to be replied to right away versus who is simply sharing a status update.   When time is very limited, a quick glance at a photo or video in the medical journal can allow efficient care.

In a typical day, a hospice veterinarian may have a long schedule of in-home visits to make as well as several emails and phone calls to return.  With features like the 2-way medical journal and the ability to connect between multiple care providers, BabelBark is a game-changer.  Instead of filling up an email inbox or voicemail with patient updates, a pet parent can conveniently enter these updates in the BabelBark App and the hospice veterinarian can view them in a time frame that fits their needs and their schedule.  Time that is saved on these types of tasks, can be repurposed to create a better work-life balance for the professional.

Using technology can provide an opportunity for specialists and general practitioners who are doing in-home end of life care to leverage the benefit of a segment of virtual care called remote patient monitoring to improve the care being provided to their hospice patients. Furthermore, technology such as BabelBark can enhance hospice care and assist the pet parent in keeping the pet comfortable during this difficult time.   Medical journaling, sharing of information across providers, remotely monitoring patients for changes in condition and activity, and the organization of all data under one easy to use system can revolutionize the way hospice and palliative care providers practice medicine and share their gifts with their clients and patients.    For more information, a demonstration and a free trial of the BabelBark system, visit www.babelvet.com 

References

1 https://www.iaahpc.org/images/2017_IAAHPC_Animal_Hospice_and_Palliative_Care_Guidelines.pdf

2 https://www.avma.org/practicemanagement/telehealth/Documents/Telehealth-Virtual-Care-Brochure.pdf

3 https://www.lapoflove.com/Quality-of-Life/Quality-of-Life-Scoring-Tools