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Telemedicine: When I’m Here, But My Doctor Is There

Publication: Austin Medical Times 

In recent years, there have been extraordinary medical and technological advancements in healthcare.   

In an ideal world, location would not be an obstacle to accessing leading-edge cancer care, the reality is that in states as vast as Texas, patients often travel long distances for specialized consultations and treatments. Traveling for care can be exhausting, costly, and untimely for patients and their caregivers. 

Telemedicine has been in use for many years. More recently, it is becoming more common in cancer care. In appropriate settings, telemedicine can be a viable and beneficial option for patients and physicians.

What is telemedicine, and how might you or a loved one benefit from it? 

Telemedicine enables physicians to connect directly with patients who need highly specialized care, even if they live hundreds of miles away from the physicians’ offices. This is accomplished through a range of technologies, including video conferencing. Video conferencing makes it possible for patients to see and speak directly with a physician. Additionally, it allows for medical records to be shared, including imaging studies. Physicians within a healthcare network can access patient records and share files through encrypted, HIPPA-compliant technology. 

With telemedicine, patients have access to extensive and diverse expertise with more treatment options, while saving time and expense.

Telemedicine does not completely eliminate the need for patients to travel for certain aspects of treatment and in-person doctor visits. But the robust communications technology effectively extends the reach of healthcare providers by allowing some consultations and follow-ups to take place remotely. This is vitally important in many areas of Texas, where access to specialty healthcare is limited or non-existent.

As an example, if a patient in Texas has been identified by their medical team as a potential candidate for highly precise proton therapy, oncologists specializing in this type of treatment can use telemedicine to conduct a preliminary consultation with the patient to determine if the treatment is appropriate for them. This helps eliminate unnecessary travel. 

The patient visits their local physician’s office for the appointment, where the appropriate specialist is added remotely via telemedicine technology. Specialties available also include blood and marrow transplant, CAR-T therapy, pediatric hematology, neuro-oncology, and advance care planning. 

Telemedicine makes it possible for patients to connect with physicians by allowing some consultations and follow-up to take place remotely. Consultations can include voice, videoconferencing, sharing and reviewing scans and images, coordination of local supportive care, symptom management – or any combination of those services as clinical circumstances require. 

Telemedicine is making it possible to reach more patients, and deliver care more efficiently and conveniently without compromising quality, regardless of patient location. The future of cancer care is here, and it includes telemedicine that is effective for patients.

Rebecca Fisher, M.D., is a neuro-oncologist at the Austin Brain Tumor Center, a part of Texas Oncology, located at 901 W. 38th Street, Suite 200, in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit texasoncology.com. 

This story originally appeared in the Austin Medical Times.

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