Telehealth for Follow-Up Cancer Care: Is it the Future?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, health care providers across the country were forced to find new ways to provide patient care, often embracing the use of telehealth. While telehealth services have been available for years, the practice of online medicine has typically been reserved for low-risk medical issues that could easily be identified and treated without lab testing or a physical examination. However, during the pandemic, many health care centers and providers that had relied on in-person visits were forced to turn to telehealth when travel and hospital visits were restricted. A study at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that using telehealth visits for some cancer follow-up visits was a success for both providers and patients.

The study, which was conducted through Dana-Farber, analyzed the satisfaction of both medical providers and patients with virtual visits specifically for childhood cancer follow-up care. According to the study, health care providers at Dana-Farber were overwhelmingly pleased with their virtual patient visits, with 86% of providers stating that they were either very satisfied or completely satisfied with their virtual visits. While lack of physical examinations and lab testing did prevent medical providers from accomplishing some clinical goals, their overall satisfaction with the virtual visits was high.  On a personal note as a patient, I have found telemedicine in clinical areas beyond oncology to be immensely helpful and effective.. 

In this same study, patients (childhood cancer survivors) were also satisfied with the overall experience, even more so than providers. About 95% of patients said that they were either completely or very satisfied with their virtual experience. Perhaps even more telling was the fact that about two-thirds of patients found their visit to be almost as helpful as an in-person visit and more than four out of five participants preferred virtual visits either in combination with or instead of in-person visits.

While the success of virtual health care was particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual cancer follow-up visits may reduce the long-term burden of receiving cancer treatment at a long-distance facility. By reducing the amount of travel to and from top cancer treatment centers, more people could receive the life-saving advantages of cancer follow-up visits without the personal and financial impact of travel but yet providing them with access to the leading clinicians at major medical centers like Dana-Farber.. More research into the benefits and consequences of virtual or hybrid care for cancer survivors is needed to understand the true potential and risks of such health care models.

Source: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute