Introduction: Healthcare models for the delivery of palliative care to rural populations encounter common challenges: service gaps, the cost of the service in relation to the population, sustainability, and difficulty in demonstrating improvements in outcomes. Although it is widely agreed that a community capacity-building approach to rural palliative care is essential, how that approach can be achieved, evaluated and sustained remains in question. The purpose of this community-based research project is to test the feasibility and identify potential outcomes of implementing a rural palliative supportive service (RPaSS) for older adults living with life-limiting chronic illness and their family caregiver in the community. This paper reports on the feasibility aspects of the study.
Methods: RPaSS is being conducted in two co-located rural communities with populations of approximately 10 000 and no specialized palliative services. Participants living with life-limiting chronic illness and their family caregivers are visited bi-weekly in the home by a nurse coordinator who facilitates symptom management, teaching, referrals, psychosocial and spiritual support, advance care planning, community support for practical tasks, and telephone-based support for individuals who must commute outside of the rural community for care. Mixed-method collection strategies are used to collect data on visit patterns; healthcare utilization; family caregiver needs; and participant needs, functional performance and quality of life.
Results: A community-based advisory committee worked with the investigative team over a 1-year period to plan RPaSS, negotiating the best fit between research methods and the needs of the community. Recruitment took longer than anticipated with service capacity being reached at 8 months. Estimated service capacity of one nurse coordinator, based on bi-weekly visits, is 25 participants and their family caregivers. A total of 393 in-person visits and 53 telephone visits were conducted between January 2013 and May 2014. Scheduled in-person visit duration showed a mean of 67 minutes. During this same time period only 19 scheduled visits were declined, and there was no study attrition except through death, indicating a high degree of acceptability of the intervention. The primary needs that were addressed during these visits have been related to chronic disease management, and the attending physical symptoms were addressed through teaching and support. The use of structured quality of life and family caregiver needs assessments has been useful in facilitating communication, although some participants experienced the nature of the questions as too personal in the early stages of the relationship with the nurse coordinator.
Conclusions: Findings from this study illustrate the feasibility of providing home-based services for rural older adults living with life-limiting chronic illness. The RPaSS model has the potential to smooth transitions and enhance quality of life along the disease trajectory and across locations of care by providing a consistent source of support and education. This type of continuity has the potential to foster the patient- and family-centered approach to care that is the ideal of a palliative approach. Further, the use of a rural community capacity-building approach may contribute to sustainability, which is a particularly important part of rural health service delivery.
Keywords: Community Participation; Health Service reform; North America; Nursing; Palliative Care.