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Telemedicine’s Role in Cancer Treatment

telemedicine cancer treatmentReaders of this blog may be familiar with the terms “telemedicine” and “telehealth, but a new word, “teleoncology,” is starting to take hold. Teleoncology refers to the application of telemedicine in cancer care, including diagnostics, treatment, and supportive care.  Telemedicine offers oncologists a new way to consult remotely with specialists in other specialties or places to help in the delivery of clinical care. For people with cancer, telemedicine expands access to care, improves the management of treatment side effects, and potentially has a major impact on treatment outcomes and quality of life.

Promising Research

The Indiana Cancer Pain and Depression Study evaluated the use of telehealth based care and automated symptom monitoring to treat pain and depression in patients with cancer. The results were impressive.

The authors concluded, “Centralized telecare management coupled with automated symptom monitoring resulted in improved pain and depression outcomes in cancer patients receiving care in geographically dispersed urban and rural oncology practices.

Cancer.net reported that a study presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that patients with advanced cancer who used an online tool to report symptoms between visits to their doctor saw a 5-month increase in survival compared with patients who did not use the online tool. Patients who used the online tool also reported improved quality of life.

Expanded Access and Convenience

“The technology that is available today is helping bring about a fundamental change in U.S. health care,” Richard J. Boxer, MD, FACS, Visiting Professor of Urology, David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, and Visiting Scholar, the Business of Science Center, UCLA told The ASCO Post, a leading resource for clinical oncology and hematology news.  “The current system of bringing patients to health care is changing because of technology. With innovations such as video conferencing, telephone-based care management, and automated symptom monitoring, high-quality health care is becoming much more convenient and much more affordable and providing greater access to care. Now, it is possible to bring health care to the patient instead of bringing the patient to health care. I cannot envision the future of health care without connected health.”

This is particularly important for cancer patients who already have a big enough burden. Video visits make it easier for them to stay in compliance with their treatment plan, report side effects, and stay connected with their healthcare team. It also allows patients to seek help from the best expert on their condition, not simply the closest.

Technology Innovations Will Enhance the Patient Experience

At a recent SXSW panel, the topic turned to telemedicine treatment for cancer patients, specifically how new mobile connectivity infrastructure advances will impact the delivery of remote healthcare to cancer patients.

5th generation mobile networks or 5th generation wireless systems, abbreviated 5G, are the proposed next telecommunications standards beyond the current 4G/IMT-Advanced standards.  John Donovan, AT&T Chief Strategy Officer and group president for AT&T Technology and Operations, told the panel that 5G has the potential to improve the quality of virtual interactions between patients and physicians.

Video Visits Offer Relief from the Shortage of Oncologists

There is a significant shortage of healthcare providers in all areas, and cancer is no exception. Geography plays a role, as there is a distance between where the physicians are and where the patients are. This can be overcome with the introduction of teleoncology.

Telemedicine also allows more patients to be cared for by the same provider because it increases the number of available time slots during the day. It is also flexible, allowing a doctor to work in a video visit if a patient cancels or there are empty spots on the schedule. This increases the efficiency of each provider, resulting in increased profits for the practice and more access to care for patients.

One more way that telemedicine helps with the physician shortage related to cancer treatment is that it allows experienced physicians who are not currently working full time because they are retired, out of the workforce to care for children, or disabled, to continue to be involved and lend their medical expertise by practicing as consultants.

Telemedicine continues to gain traction across every specialty, but oncology is a particularly important area where this new technology can save and improve lives and ensure more efficient use of precious resources.