Innovative Telemedicine Program Furthers Reach of Palliative Care 

By: Julia Baird

UPMC’s Inpatient TelePalli Program, spearheaded by Dr. Karl B. Bezak, medical director of Inpatient Palliative Care, is possibly the only program of its kind in the country, providing specialty level palliative care to inpatients and their loved ones via telehealth. 

“The increased use of telehealth grew out of needs related to COVID-19,” said Bezak. “Our service means to address the lack of access to specialty palliative care for those in rural areas who are far from urban academic centers.” 

For seriously ill patients in rural areas, a lack of access to care can lead to poor health outcomes. 

“Research shows those in marginalized populations — whether it is by race, ethnicity or location — have poorer health outcomes,” said Bezak. “This program aims to bridge the gap by bringing advanced symptom management and goals of care clarification to the bedside. We are serving hospitalized patients who would otherwise have very little or no access at all to high-quality specialty palliative care.” 

Currently, five hospitals are using the Inpatient TelePalli Program model: UPMC Northwest, UPMC Jameson, UPMC Horizon – Shenango, UPMC Horizon – Greenville and UPMC Somerset.  

Bezak is keen on the growth of the program. “An increase in consultations is a sign that our service is valued,” he said, “and that patients and local teams in the hospital feel supported.” 

The program also helps to educate staff and patients on palliative care and remove the stigma and misconceptions surrounding it. Anyone who has a serious illness at any age, or any stage, can use palliative care as an extra layer of support, along with curative treatments. 

To learn more about palliative care services at UPMC, visit the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute.