Palliative care with Dr. Aswini Bapat

Today, we speak with Dr Aswini Bapat

Dr. Ashwini Bapat is a palliative care doctor and founder of EpioneMD, a telehealth platform which empowers individuals who are aging, living with illness, and their caregivers to live well now. She is also the co-Founder of Hippocratic Adventures, a community of US trained physicians dreaming of practicing medicine outside the United States.

-How did you decide on this idea?

In my daily work, I see how a palliative care clinician can positively impact the lives of those living with serious illness by equipping them and their caregivers with the tools to live better, now. I also knew that many people in the US are unable to access the benefits of palliative care, and as the American population ages, this gap is going to worsen. It was this frustration that got me thinking about creative ways to improve access. I see telehealth as a way of bringing palliative care expertise into the homes of patients and caregivers who would have traditionally struggled to access it. This is what inspired us to start EpioneMD.

-Why are you doing what you are doing?

I have always been inspired and awed by human resilience and the mysteries intrinsic to life and death. As a palliative care doctor, I care for people living with a serious illness, such as cancer, dementia, heart failure, and ALS. My patient?s courage to show up to clinic visits, to learn the results of their latest CT scan, and to undergo biopsies and surgeries and chemotherapies, inspires me to be courageous in my own life.

They also remind me that my time here on earth is fleeting. It was while interacting with my patients that I had an ?aha? moment. I realized that if I continued on this conveyor belt, I would likely head to my funeral with a hearse brimming with regrets and with dreams left in storage. It was my patient?s courage that helped me pull my ideas out from storage and pursue them.

- Who are you helping?

We are helping individuals who are aging, living with an illness, and their caregivers, live well now. We are also supporting primary care clinicians and subspecialty clinicians to help them provide excellent care to all of their patients. Our goal is to improve access for everyone, so to that end one of our missions is to be in the places where it is hard to access palliative care, particularly in the southeast and mid-west.

-What were the obstacles that you faced and how did you overcome them?

For me personally, in the middle of launching EpioneMD my family and I moved to Portugal. In moving and leaving an academic job, the first obstacle I faced was an identity crisis, as a huge part of my identity was tied to being part of a big academic center and the prestige and responsibilities it bestowed. I wondered if I was still a doctor if I saw patients virtually. In launching EpioneMD, I also eventually stepped away from a clinical position to devote my time to EpioneMD. I had to in someways, reinvent how I viewed myself, and this is an ongoing process.

For EpioneMD, the biggest challenge we are facing is that most people, including clinicians, don?t understand what palliative care is and the breadth of services under the umbrella of palliative care.

Palliative care helps people live well in the present moment ? whether they are aging, living with an illness, or are a caregiver. At EpioneMD, we do this by helping individuals identify what matters most to them, develop a framework for medical decisions, communicate their wishes with loved one and their medical team, and learn about supportive resources. We also provide emotional and spiritual support and provide person-centric care. When I explain our work in this manner, most people wonder why they didn?t have palliative care earlier. 

We are overcoming this barrier through educational initiatives on social media such as our 7-Day Advance Care Planning Challenge and through local community outreach to Councils on Aging and Senior Centers.

-What tips would you give to someone else who would do something similar?

Redefine success for yourself. I used to think that success was about the outcome - having a certain title, working in a particular institution, or making a certain salary. As an entrepreneur, this definition of success just doesn?t work. I have redefined success to have the courage to take one more step. I try to focus more on the process - what have I learned, what am I learning, how can I trouble shoot around a particular problem, what are my strengths and how can I use them effectively. 

-What are your future plans?

EpioneMD is looking forward to partnering with organizations, such as health insurance companies, hospitals, employers, and local community organizations to help their members navigate aging and illness with confidence.

Personally, since I now live in Portugal, I am looking forward to learning more about the Portuguese health system. I am learning Portuguese and I am coordinating with colleagues here to learn more about how palliative care is provided in Portugal. My hope is that in the future I will be able to work within palliative care in both the US and Portugal.

I encourage everyone, regardless of age or health status, to answer these three questions. Share the answers with your loved ones and your medical team. These answers serve as guideposts to help you get the most out of your medical care. 

1. What brings you joy?

2. How much information would you like to know about your health?

3. If time were short, how would you like to spend it?


Ashwini Bapat is a Palliative Care physician and writer. She received her medical degree at Tufts University and completed her internal medicine residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She found her calling in palliative care and completed her fellowship in Hospice & Palliative Medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She has worked at academic centers including Yale-New Haven Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, and was an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

As a writer, she is inspired and awed by human resilience and the mysteries intrinsic to life and death. Her narratives have been featured in WBURHarvard Health BlogKevinMD, Journal of Palliative Medicine, Academic Medicine, and the Society of General Internal Medicine. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

Do you have an advanced Care Plan yet? If not then participate in Dr Bapat's 7 Day Advance Care Planning Challenge

Learn more on Dr Bapat's website

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