Benefits of telehealth in the oncology world – for those with access

AJMC reports on the various benefits of telemedicine in the oncology world once COVID lower barriers of reimbursement, including weather resilience…

Rajini Katipamula-Malisetti, MD, a medical oncologist and hematologist with Minnesota Oncology who practices in Coon Rapids, has seen telehealth’s usefulness up close. She spoke with Evidence-Based Oncology™ in December 2021, as the Omicron variant fueled another surge of COVID-19 cases and triggered another rise in hospitalizations.4 This happened as Minnesota reached the season when, in prior years, a wintry blast could wipe out an entire day’s schedule.

But now, schedulers at Minnesota Oncology know that if patients call to say they can’t come in because of a snowstorm, there’s a solution. “We’re just asking them to offer telehealth appointments,” Katipamula-Malisetti said. “We don’t want to cancel appointments.”

Better yet, the team can look at the forecast and proactively switch patients to telehealth appointments if a storm is coming. “It’s been really helpful,” she said.

… telemedicine reduces exposure to infection and makes staffing easier…

Having patients see their physician, social worker, or nutritionist via telehealth obviously reduces the opportunity for infection, but that’s not the only problem it solves, Katipamula-Malisetti said. Staffing shortages have emerged across health care, and Minnesota Oncology may not have staff at each clinic for every type of service. Telehealth helps address that: “There are certain specialties where we’re still leveraging telehealth significantly,” she said.

… telemedicine makes it easier to get family history when family can join the call…

Another example: a genetics session at which family history is taken—having multiple family members participate is a plus, she said. Depending on the practice or the insurer, telehealth was used for these visits even before the pandemic due to the relative scarcity of certified genetic counselors.4 She cited visits about nutrition as a third example.

The article outlines the best uses of telemedicine (based on survey results)…

The Minnesota Oncology experience with telehealth generally aligns with survey results reported at the most recent ASCO meeting, in May 2021. Only 3 types of visits were found appropriate for telehealth by more than 50% of the providers: discussions of imaging or laboratory results, chemotherapy education, and genetics counseling. More than 50% of survivors found visits on imaging or laboratory results or financial counseling to be appropriate; 90% of providers thought financial counseling was appropriate within the context of a broader visit on supportive care. Follow-up care found appropriate for telehealth by more than 50% of both providers and survivors included symptom management; for survivorship care, more than 50% of providers and survivors endorsed nutrition consultations and patient navigation via telehealth.

And notes that of course these benefits only apply when patients have access to broadband, devices and the skills to use them…

For all the positives that telehealth can offer, the question of whether all patients have the same access to technology has lingered since the start of the pandemic. The ASCO survey results showed that among survivors, 2.5% reported having no phone or no smartphone, 6.7% reported no or unreliable broadband or internet access, and 10.9% reported being uncomfortable using technology.

This entry was posted in Healthcare, MN, Research and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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