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Helping from a Distance

What does it mean to help from a distance?

If you are caring for someone with cancer who lives more than an hour away, that’s “caring from afar” or helping from a distance. There are a variety of mobile and web apps that ease the burden of family caregivers, and their use should be considered. It can be emotionally and practically difficult, but tools can be used. Remote monitoring, access to information, and enhanced communication may be of assistance.

How can I help from a distance?

Here are 25 things you can do from a distance:

  1. Help the person with cancer determine how much care he or she will need. Determine whether he or she can stay at home.
  2. If needed, look into in-home healthcare, in-home support services, and/or elder care (if eligible).
  3. Make a list of things that have to be done and have available.
  4. Call members of the patient’s support group, like neighbors, friends, or the patient’s faith community. Keep them involved in the patient’s care and update them as needed.
  5. Use apps to assist multiple caregivers with communication (e.g., group messaging or WhatsApp)
  6. Make sure professionals know how to reach you.
  7. Identify someone in the local community who you can contact.
  8. Know the patient’s treatment options so that you can help the patient make decisions. If you have the patient’s permission, talk with his or her healthcare provider directly to be sure you understand the situation.
  9. Sign up to access the patient’s medical information via the health system’s patient portals as applicable. Some physician offices enable the patient and/or caregiver to view diagnostic tests, laboratory results, and even appointment schedules via a protected private web-based program.
  10. Most patient portals allow patients to give family members access to their medical records.
  11. Go over appointment schedules and transportation plans and help the patient troubleshoot if need be (share calendars).
  12. Make a directory of important names and phone numbers (medical and agencies) involved in care.
  13. Go over any questions the patient should ask his or her healthcare provider and write them down so they are easily accessible during office visits.
  14. Review the important answers together. Look into agencies that can help with transportation, prescription costs, meal delivery, and patient support, and let the patient and/or local caregivers know about them. Consider calling yourself to get information.
  15. Ask your loved one’s doctor or nurse if a social worker or other designated associate is available to help with coordinating these resources. Are there case managers available?
  16. Check in regularly with the patient to see how he or she is doing. Ask about side effects that might be troubling them and identify strategies to deal with them (recommend resources for help).
  17. Know where important papers are, such as Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), court documents, and advanced directives.
  18. If they don’t have these important documents, consider taking the lead in making sure the person with cancer has his or her legal and financial paperwork in order.
  19. Determine if there are alterations needed in the home to increase safety (ramp, grab bars). Ensure the patient has a falls monitoring device if applicable.
  20. Have an emergency plan in place. Make sure that everyone who needs this information has it and that there is a point of contact in the patient’s local community. This may also include a plan for respite care if needed.
  21. Maintain a list of the patient’s medications. Check-in to be sure he or she is taking medications as directed by the healthcare provider.
  22. Determine if the patient needs help obtaining their medication from the pharmacy, organizing their medication, or needs help remembering to take their medication as prescribed. Make sure this information is available to local caregivers or contacts. This should be verified monthly for accuracy.
  23. Know who will help with chores, house maintenance, and yard work if living independently.
  24. Have a transportation plan for physician visits, laboratory visits, or other diagnostic testing.
  25. Know who will assist with bills, banking, and money matters.

Tools for long-distance caregiving

  • Video conferencing (Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime) can be used to check in on status
  • Calendaring - using shared calendars (e.g., Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, Notion)
  • Medication tracking with reminders
  • Cognitive health tracking - through conversations
  • Sleep and physical activity tracking - wear devices that track and share the data
  • Communication via email, text message, instant message
  • Photo sharing can be used to keep track of wounds, cuts, lumps, or bruises

Ask the patient’s care team to help you get started to care from afar. Often nurses and social works can be of assistance.


  • Douglas, S.L., Mazanec, P., Lipson, A.R., Day, K., Blackstone, E., Bajor, D.L., ... & Krishnamurthi, S. (2021). Videoconference intervention for distance caregivers of patients with cancer: A randomized controlled trial. JCO oncology practice, 17(1), e26-e35.
  • Wang, J., Fu, Y., Lou, V., Tan, S. Y., & Chui, E. (2021). A systematic review of factors influencing attitudes towards and intention to use the long-distance caregiving technologies for older adults. International journal of medical informatics, 153, 104536.