Remotely delivering rehabilitation services to patients with late-stage cancer was found to improve their physical function, pain and quality of life, while decreasing the time spent in hospitals and nursing homes, revealed research led by Andrea Cheville, M.D., a Mayo Clinic physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. The findings are published in the online issue of JAMA Oncology.
"Patients with late-stage cancers often lose their functional abilities and, with this loss, have a poorer quality of life and lowered ability to tolerate their cancer treatments," says Dr. Cheville. "We know that rehabilitation and exercise can reverse or slow these losses, but it is often hard for patients to find, much less get, these services. The result is that too many people lose the ability to care for themselves and become needlessly dependent on others. We were interested in finding out whether an easily accessible telerehabilitation program could improve the function and independence of these patients."
For this study, telerehabilitation, began with a physical therapist delivering individualized physical conditioning programs to participants by telephone. Progress was monitored and feedback about patients' level of pain and physical function was shared between the physical therapists and patients online or by telephone, depending on patient preference. When necessary, patients were referred to local physical therapists for further refinement of their programs.
The results indicated that the subjects assigned to telerehabilitation alone had the largest benefits: higher levels of function and independence, lessened pain, and fewer days spent in hospitals and nursing homes. "We were not surprised that telerehabilitation was beneficial, but we were very surprised that the addition of medication-based pain management did not further improve outcomes. We plan to explore this finding in future research," says Dr. Cheville.