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Mesothelioma is a rare and debilitating cancer that brings many health and medical needs. Patients with mesothelioma need a lot of special care which often includes numerous medications and even assisted breathing and oxygen supplementation. As this aggressive cancer progresses, patients may need even more specialized care.
Home medical equipment can make mesothelioma patients more comfortable and be more convenient for the family. Also known as durable medical equipment (DME), home equipment could be something as simple as an oxygen tank or as large as a hospital bed. Mesothelioma home medical equipment can be purchased from various suppliers and may be covered by private health insurance and Medicare.
What is Home Medical Equipment?
Home medical equipment is any medical device used in the home for patient care. A nurse or other health care worker may use the equipment with the patient, or family members may be trained to provide care. Medical equipment may be used to monitor the patient, administer medications, help make breathing easier, or provide nutrition or oxygen.
Home, or durable, medical equipment is often used by families when a patient transitions from the hospital but still still needs some level of medical care. As patients transition from the hospital to home, there may need to be some extra planning to be sure the home is comfortable and safe. Home equipment is often necessary to provide some level of care. Although the equipment may be expensive, it is less costly than an extended hospital stay. This equipment also allows patients to stay home, where they are more comfortable and avoid hospital infections and other complications.
When Does a Mesothelioma Patient Need Home Medical Equipment?
When a patient needs home medical care will depend on several factors. Working with a medical team of doctors, nurses, and specialists can help guide important decision like using home medical equipment.
In general, a patient may need this equipment if he or she is stable enough to leave the hospital but still requires some medical care. This medical care could be in the form of assisted breathing or medication administration. Home medical equipment can also be used to manage symptoms and side effects. In the later stages of mesothelioma, medication may not be sufficient to manage pain. However, a piece of equipment may make a difference in comfort levels.
Respiratory Equipment for Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of mesothelioma. This form involves the tissue lining the lungs and chest cavity. Because it affects the lungs, respiratory problems are common, causing both pain and difficulty breathing. Simple home medical equipment can relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
A portable oxygen tank is a small but important piece of equipment for many mesothelioma patients. An oxygen tank can be wheeled around so a patient who struggles to breathe can walk around and still receive enough oxygen.
A spirometer is another useful piece of equipment that measures how much air you inhale or exhale. This encourages patients to take in deep breaths to avoid complications such as pneumonia. This small plastic device tracks measurements to monitor a patient’s symptoms and progress.
Medical Equipment for Pleural Effusion
People with pleural mesothelioma often experience pleural effusion, a build up of fluid between the layers of tissue in the chest. Pleural effusion is typically painful and makes breathing difficult. Draining this fluid provides relief. Newer medical devices are available that allow patients to do this at home rather than going to the hospital. The devices must be installed surgically but remain in place for home use.
Indwelling catheters into the chest cavity are one home device used to drain excess pleural fluid. One method is using a shunt, where one end is inserted in the chest’s pleural cavity and the other in the peritoneal cavity of the abdomen. This is called a pleuroperitoneal shunt. The idea is that it shunts fluid from the lungs to the peritoneal cavity where the body can absorb and excrete it. This would not be effective if the patient also had peritoneal mesothelioma, as these patients often have an abundance of fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity already. For patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, fluid buildup in the abdomen can also be uncomfortable and can be drained with a shunt that routes the fluid into a vein.
Another more common option is to have an indwelling catheter placed that can be drained by the patient or family at home. A small plastic tube is inserted in the pleural cavity and this one way valve can be attached to a vacuum container to remove fluid.
Other Home Medical Equipment
In addition to equipment that relieves symptoms specific to mesothelioma and its treatments, other devices are more general. For example, a hospital bed can make resting easier and might help breathing more comfortable. A hospital bed can also make getting in and out of bed easier.
Mobility devices like walkers and wheelchairs give patients to continue moving as long as possible. In the bathroom, assistive devices like shower seats and toilet chairs also allow a patient to maintain some independence. Lifts can also be installed to help patients get to an upper floor.
Paying for Home Medical Equipment
Home medical equipment is expensive, but many health insurance plans, including Medicare, provide coverage. Durable medical equipment is covered by Medicare part B. For equipment to be covered it must be reusable, have a medical purpose, be prescribed by a doctor, and not be used by anyone who is not sick.
Most private insurance plans also cover home medical equipment, although it may require a co-pay. Veterans may seek assistance through the Veterans Administration. In addition, Medicaid may cover cost of equipment for those who qualify.
Home medical equipment can provide an alternative to assisted living or a nursing home for some mesothelioma patients. For some, medical equipment can make the difference between being in pain and being comfortable. It may also make the difference between being bed-ridden and being able to leave the house. This equipment is important for many people and everyone coping with an illness like mesothelioma should be aware of the options it provides.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.