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How Telemedicine Fits Into Your Cancer Care Plan

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Corsicana Daily Sun, Houston Medical Times

If there’s any silver lining at all for healthcare – and for patients – in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the acceleration of the adoption of telemedicine and virtual care. The dramatic change in opportunities for healthcare facilities to provide telemedicine and acceptance by patients constitute a major transformation.

According to a survey conducted among more than 2,000 U.S. adults, nearly half reported using telemedicine since the start of the pandemic. Technology advancements and their benefits to cancer patients have transcended the virtual office visit to also encompass digital symptom tracking and integration with patient communications platforms, all to deliver comprehensively better care.

Benefits of telemedicine

Telemedicine is not new. Previously, it was primarily used for patients who lived in rural areas with limited access to physicians, particularly specialty care. While telemedicine was slowly making its way into mainstream clinical practice, the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and support for telemedicine from government and insurers abruptly sped up its rapid, widespread adoption.

Today, telemedicine appointments are conducted by phone or video between patients and their care teams. While it could never entirely replace in-person care, telemedicine offers a number of benefits including:

  • Access to specialists

  • Travel time and cost savings

  • Reduced exposure to harmful germs during cold and flu season, or COVID-19 exposure

  • Inclusion of family or caregivers who may not normally be able to attend an in-person appointment

How telemedicine is used in cancer care

Appointments in clinics are a necessity when it comes to treating cancer, whether you are newly diagnosed, in treatment, or need follow-up care. However, for patients who have a weakened immune system or live in at-risk communities, the simple act of leaving home can be dangerous for their health.

In a questionnaire assessing breast cancer patients’ satisfaction with telemedicine, 92 percent reported that telemedicine services saved them time. Additionally, 82 percent of respondents reported telemedicine improved their health. When it comes to cancer care, telemedicine is helpful for those needing:

  • Access to urgent care services that don’t warrant a trip to the emergency room, which lowers risk of exposure to cold, flu, or COVID-19

  • Counseling for lifestyle changes

  • Assistance managing symptoms or side effects

  • Check-ups between or after treatments

  • Specialist referrals

  • Ongoing education about treatment

  • New prescriptions or help managing medication

  • Ongoing monitoring of certain issues without a face-to-face visit

Clinicians have also reported high satisfaction with telemedicine. In a survey of 200 oncologists, the majority were satisfied and wanted to continue using it. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed believed video visits were sufficient for managing some aspects of patient care, such as treatment plans and reviewing laboratory results.

While there are many benefits to using telemedicine, it cannot replace all in-person care for cancer patients. Of course, chemotherapy infusion, radiation therapy as well as tests such as blood draws, mammography, colonoscopies, or CT scans cannot be done via telemedicine.

The future of telemedicine in cancer care

Telemedicine and virtual care for cancer patients are likely here to stay and will continue to evolve. In a study of U.S. patients using telemedicine after the COVID-19 pandemic, 51 percent said they would continue using telemedicine after the pandemic ended if it remains available because they like the convenience it offers.

Advancements in telemedicine technologies and services will continue to impact healthcare, offering innovative solutions that further blur the lines between in-person and virtual care – all with a focus on helping patients reach their best health and improve quality of life.

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