Hospices Increasingly Supplement Bereavement Care with Phone Apps

By Holly Vossel

Hospices are embracing digital memory sharing platforms that are emerging worldwide to help support patients and their families through the dying process. These evolving technologies have made it possible for families and friends to memorialize loved ones through videos, audio recordings and various other media forms.

Hospices are required by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to offer bereavement care to patients’ families for 13 months after their loved one expires. Hospice social workers, chaplains and volunteers are often roles tying patient families to these services and related services such as memorials, funerals and death doulas. Many hospices extend their grief care beyond their patient populations and offer that same support into the community at large with bereavement camps, support groups and memorial services for those experiencing the loss of a loved one.

A rising number of providers are turning to smartphone and tablet apps to enhance their bereavement services.

“[The After Cloud application] came from a place of grief that we turned into positiveness,” said Darren Evans, founder of After Cloud, an app that recently launched in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. “It essentially gives people the ability to capture moments in any form and it’s designed specifically with end-of-life and palliative care in mind. People can capture real-time moments and publish them at a future date to families if they wish.”

After Cloud joined the digital memory sharing space among platforms with similar capabilities of uploading photos and documents, creating videos, recording audio messages and speech-to-text features for dictating letters. Intended to capture and share moments with loved ones, the technology could be beneficial for hospice providers looking to expand complimentary bereavement services for families of deceased patients and communities at large.

“We’ve had tons of conversations with hospice social workers about our memorialized websites and the biggest thing about them is that they really end up being a win all around because it makes things easier on the family,” said Alison Johnston, co-founder and CEO of Ever Loved, a funeral planning site that creates memorial websites for individuals approaching the end of life and their families. “Much like a digital cemetery a memorialized website is a place where you can come back and visit a person and you can connect with other people that care about them as well. Somebody can continue to live online and it represents who this person was, shares the impact they had with other people and helps others grieve and connect with one another.”

The digital memory sharing platforms also pose an opportunity to expand advance care planning discussions with a number of apps featuring capabilities to upload and share documents virtually with loved ones. Advance care directives, living wills, life insurance policies and funeral planning information are some examples of the documentation types.

“For their patients, it’s that you’ve made this part of their life as physically and emotionally at ease for them and their loved ones. We create a co-branded webpage, give them a code for patients, provide digital information leaflets and just make the platform easily accessible on smartphones, tablets and computers,” said Ian Dibb, founder and CEO of the U.K.-based Once I’ve Gone application. “They know their loved ones will hear them and have access to all the important documentation and plans needed when you’re gone. The platform is meant to be about people interacting with it to get all their affairs in order and also create a digital legacy.”

Hospices have increasingly leveraged technology to ramp up grief support, with younger generations impacting the technical scope of end-of-life care. As more tech savvy generations care for aging parents and eventually come to need end-of-life care themselves, the trend toward digital memory sharing and grief support is expected to continue.

“Over the last five to 10 years our audience has become so much more tech savvy and is looking to do more things digitally because it’s one of the ways that we can help ensure that somebody’s memory lives on forever, and that people can continue to feel connected to family members and friends after they pass,” Johnston told Hospice News.

Similar to hospice, a goal for digital platform providers is to break down misperceptions around death and the dying process and bring end of life to the forefront of global conversations.

“We’re all about normalizing the conversation of death and grief,” said chief technology officer of After Cloud, Antony Hawkes. “The core of the application is the concept of building up your memories in a moment through things like photos and videos that are saved in a kind of memory box shared with loved ones later through permission sharing. Their loved ones are accessing this content remotely as a pipeline to pull these loved ones together and allow them to share, comment and discuss the content. Bringing people together and reducing that stigma around death is such an interesting challenge.”

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