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Palliative Care Doctors Turn to Technology to Help Those Dying Alone

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Palliative Care Doctors Turn to Technology to Help Those Dying Alone
Photo caption: Dr. Jessica Zitter, a palliative care specialist at Highland Hospital in Oakland, is seeing patients remotely during coronavirus shelter-in-place orders. (Beth LaBerge/KQED) Article by April Dembosky.

When Dr. Steve Pantilat asks his patients what they want most at the end of life, the answer is almost always the same: To be comfortable and surrounded by people they love.

“I’ve been in rooms where there are 35 family members, people are playing music and holding a vigil, saying prayers and singing,” said Pantilat, chief of palliative medicine at UCSF. “They’re even having weddings in the hospital. Just last month, we had another wedding for someone who was dying.”

But in the age of coronavirus, none of this is happening. There’s too much risk of visitors getting sick or infecting critical frontline staff, and there’s not enough protective equipment to go around. So the new policy at UCSF and hospitals across the country is: One visitor, and only for patients who are actively dying.

“I think that’s really, really, really distressing for everyone involved,” Pantilat said. “We’ve never really faced this before, trying to make these really gut wrenching decisions about visitation of when and who and how many. It’s a very sacred time, and yet, for this pandemic, it’s really important to limit spread.” […]

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