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Living with mesothelioma—a rare and debilitating type of cancer—means living with a number of health and medical needs. From medications to chemotherapy and its side effects to assisted breathing and oxygen supplementation, mesothelioma patients need a lot of care. This is especially true as this aggressive type of cancer progresses and causes more side effects and discomfort.

One solution that patients and their families have to making life more comfortable and convenient is to rely on home medical equipment. Also known as durable medical equipment, this could be anything from a hospital bed to an oxygen tank. Mesothelioma home medical equipment can be purchased from various sources and may be covered by private health insurance and Medicare.

What is Home Medical Equipment?

Home medical equipment is any device that is used in the home to care for a patient. There may be a nurse or other health care worker that comes to the home to use the equipment with the patient, or family members may be trained in the use of the equipment in order to provide care. Medical equipment that can be used in the home may have several purposes: to monitor the patient, to administer medications, to help make breathing easier, or to provide nutrition or oxygen.

Home, or durable, medical equipment is often used by families that have a member transitioning from hospital care to the home, but who still needs some medical care. Hospitalization is expensive and many facilities push patients to leave as soon as it is feasible. For this reason, home equipment is needed for those that still need some level of care. Although the equipment may be expensive, it is likely less expensive than an extended hospital stay. It also allows patients to stay home longer, where they are more comfortable.

When Does a Mesothelioma Patient Need Home Medical Equipment?

Knowing when you or a loved one needs home medical care depends on many factors. As you cope with mesothelioma, it is important to work with your medical team of doctors, nurses, and specialists. These medical professionals can help guide the important decisions you make, such as home care and the use of home medical equipment.

In general, a patient may need this equipment if she is stable enough to leave the hospital, but still has need of some degree of medical care, such as assisted breathing or medication administration. Another reason to use home medical equipment is to manage symptoms and side effects. Sometimes medication is not enough and there may be a piece of equipment that can make a patient more comfortable.

Respiratory Equipment for Pleural Mesothelioma

Most people with this type of cancer are living with pleural mesothelioma, the form of the illness that attacks the tissue lining the lungs and chest cavity. Because the cancer develops in this part of the body, respiratory problems are common. They are also very uncomfortable and cause both pain and difficulty breathing. Simple home medical equipment can relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

For mesothelioma patients a portable oxygen tank is a small, yet important piece of equipment. This is a small tank that can be wheeled around so that a patient struggling with breathing can get enough oxygen to go outside, walk around, and generally be more mobile. For monitoring respiratory function, a spirometer is a useful piece of equipment to have. It is a small, plastic device that a patient breathes into to get a measurement. Keeping track of these measurements helps doctors monitor a patient’s symptoms and progress.

Patients with very advanced pleural mesothelioma, who are really struggling to breathe, may benefit from a ventilator. This is a large piece of equipment that makes breathing easier and less painful. It is also known as a respirator or a mechanical ventilator. A tube connects the patient’s windpipe and nose or mouth to the machine and it blows in oxygen and air.

Medical Equipment for Pleural Effusion

People with pleural mesothelioma are likely to be affected by pleural effusion, a side effect in which fluid builds up between the layers of tissue in the chest. This causes discomfort, pain, and difficulty breathing. Draining that fluid provides relief, and newer medical devices have come on the market to allow patients to do this at home instead of going to the hospital for a procedure. The devices must be installed surgically, but remain in place and can be used at home to drain fluids.

A pleuroperitoneal shunt is one of these devices. It is inserted at one end in the pleural cavity of the chest and at the other in the peritoneal cavity of the abdomen. The patient can then use an external pump to drain fluid from the chest to the abdomen. Another option is a pleural catheter, a tube that drains pleural fluid into a container. 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.

Other Types of Home Medical Equipment

In addition to the types of equipment that help relieve symptoms caused by mesothelioma or its treatments, there are pieces of equipment that can be used to make life easier and more comfortable for anyone who is debilitated by illness. A hospital bed, for instance, can make resting easier and more comfortable and getting in and out of bed easier.

Mobility devices, like walkers and wheelchairs can give patients the chance to get out more and to continue moving as long as possible. Assistive devices in the bathroom, such as shower seats and toilet chairs, can also help a patient remain independent longer. Lifts can also be installed to help patients get to a second floor.

Paying for Home Medical Equipment

Home medical equipment is not inexpensive, but many health insurance plans provide coverage, including Medicare. Durable medical equipment is covered by Medicare part B. The requirements for coverage include that the equipment is reusable, that it is being used for a medical purpose and is something not used for anyone who isn’t sick, that it is used in the home, and that it is prescribed by a doctor.

Most private insurance plans also have coverage for home medical equipment, but there is typically a co-pay amount as well. Veterans may seek assistance through the Veterans Administration and Medicaid may also be used by patients who qualify to help cover the costs.

Home medical equipment becomes a necessity for some patients with mesothelioma, or it becomes an alternative to entering assisted living or a nursing home. Sometimes medical equipment can make the difference between being in pain and being comfortable or 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.

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