Nurse scientists win grant to study how videoconferencing helps family members provide long-distance care

Case Western Reserve University nurse scientists will use a $2.37 million federal grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research to explore how videoconferencing can help family members who are living apart from loved ones battling cancer become better involved in their treatment.

Sara-douglas-feat-300x190.jpg“Many distance caregivers become distressed over not receiving enough medical information or knowing when is best for them to come home for an in-person visit,” said Sara Douglas, assistant dean for research and the Arline H. and Curtis F. Garvin Professor in Nursing Excellence at Case Western Reserve’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, who will lead the study.

“Videoconferences that connect physicians, nurses, patients, and distant caregivers have the potential to address many of these problems,” Douglas added.

Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, a part of the National Institutes of Health, the study will assign 300 caregivers of cancer-stricken relatives one of three approaches:

  • Connecting distance caregivers, patients and their oncologists using videoconferencing during routine office appointments. In addition, an advanced practice nurse trained to work with distance caregivers will provide four coaching sessions, including ways to enhance communication with health care providers, strategies for providing assistance to a loved one from afar and methods for addressing their own emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
  • Connecting distance caregivers, patients and their oncologists using videoconferencing during routine oncology office appointments—but no coaching sessions.
  • Access to a study-devised website providing tailored information about the role of the caregiver, unique aspects of distance caregiving and information on ways to seek caregiving support.

To gauge the effectiveness of each approach, study participants will be interviewed at various points in the four-month study to assess their emotional and physical health.

“Distance caregivers can experience levels of distress higher than caregivers who live close to the patient with cancer,” said Douglas. “The whole goal of our study is to determine the most effective way to provide information and support to them.”

The study builds on a pilot experiment testing videoconferencing technologies that allowed distant caregivers to participate remotely in real-time discussions between patients, physicians, social workers, nurses and local caregivers.

“On a videoconference, everyone is hearing the same information, has a chance to ask questions or have it explained if they don’t understand,” said Douglas.

Once the physician’s visit is over, these families can use the videoconference technology to discuss among themselves what was heard and make decisions, if needed.

By 2050, nearly 100 million people in the United States will be older than 65—more than twice the country’s current count—according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“As our country ages, we’re planning for the future of taking care of sick relatives who live apart from some family members,” said Douglas, adding that most medical facilities already have secure video technology.

Douglas will conduct the study with co-investigators Polly Mazanec, an adjunct assistant professor in the nursing school; Christopher Burant, an assistant professor from the nursing school; and Stephen Ganocy, assistant professor from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

They will work with researchers at the Seidman Cancer Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, including oncologist Smitha Krishnamurthi and Patrick Mergler, director of information technology.