Telemedicine: A Convenient and Cost-Effective Form of Cancer Care
For this blog post, I’m going to discuss a topic that I haven’t explored a ton so far: technology and cancer. Our modernizing society has seen substantial development in the realm of electronic and digital equipment. The health services field has found a way to optimize this growing industry in the form of telemedicine. Especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer care has started to shift to online platforms. In-person visits with doctors in offices or hospitals are being replaced with online chats when possible. Online patient portals have become the medium by which doctors upload tests results, prescriptions, and other information for their patients to view. Nutrition counseling for cancer patients who are losing weight or have a strict diet is now taking place via Zoom. Monitoring blood pressure and blood levels is increasingly being programmed through devices that display their information on the internet for doctors to see. All of this is to say that telemedicine is becoming a more prevalent force in the lives of cancer patients and in all our lives. The question is whether telemedicine has a net positive or negative effect on the lives of cancer patients.
One very clear pro is the idea that telemedicine provides far more convenient and accessible care. Previously, the majority of people utilizing telehealth were from rural areas where hospitals and doctors are few and far between. However, COVID has made it so that people from anywhere have begun to access online sources of care. Already immunocompromised patients no longer have to risk a potential sickness or infection when they venture into a hospital; instead, they can receive their care from the comfort and safety of their own home, thus allowing them to limit their interactions with others who may pass on a sickness. Telemedicine also proves more effective for cancer patients that are homebound or do not have the option to take too much time off of work. On-demand care ensures a much quicker means of receiving information from doctors. Rather than driving to hospitals passing time in waiting rooms to hear from doctors, patients can now access their care virtually. A survey conducted by Cisco on healthcare information and management systems revealed that 74% of patients would choose virtual care over in-person care. The truth is that, in our busy lives, the convenience of telemedicine makes it a preferred option.
Just as the aforementioned rural population took advantage of connecting with doctors from far away, cancer patients from anywhere have begun to use online visits to better access specialists. Perhaps a specialist lives across the country, or even in a different nation entirely. Telehealth enables cancer patients with complicated or very specific diagnoses or treatment plans to easily meet with specialists regardless of location. Scheduling flights or several-day road trips to visit specialists is no longer the only choice, which is a great victory for patients who don’t have the time or strength to make such trips.
Telemedicine has also proved to be a more cost-effective option. The American Hospital Association found that a telemedicine program saved 11% in cost. Virtual visits minimize the amount of time patients go to the ER for causes that are not urgent, such as regular checkups or non-life-threatening issues. They further eliminate any extra expenses for transportation. They even provide financial benefits to the hospitals themselves by attracting new patients and reducing overhead for doctors who decide to conduct their visits from home part of the time. Such visits also reduce the amount of patients who do not show up for their appointments since telemedicine is so easily accessible, making these virtual visits more productive for both doctors and patients.
There is also evidence that telemedicine improves patient engagement and the quality of patient care. Virtual care makes patients more likely to reach out to doctors if they have any questions, since typing into a chat box is extremely convenient. Patients are also more inclined to report any concerns they have, and they feel more comfortable setting up more appointments from the ease of their computer. Thus, patients become more involved with their own care, and the fact that they are more likely to report issues they are experiencing means that doctors can more easily catch early warning signs. Furthermore, according to a study by the American Journal of Managed Care, patients who receive their care through telemedicine do not experience as much or as severe cases of depression, anxiety, and stress. These patients also have 38% fewer hospital admissions than other patients.
Telemedicine is an incredible means of patient-centered care, offering convenience, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness. Technological advancements have truly revolutionized cancer care and provided a safer option for patients in the midst of COVID. That being said, there are also a few cons to telemedicine that should be considered. Stay tuned for the next post to find out what they are!
“Telemedicine and Telehealth.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/choosing-your-treatment-team/telemedicine-telehealth.html.
Pande, Reena L, et al. “Leveraging Remote Behavioral Health Interventions to Improve Medical Outcomes and Reduce Costs.” American Journal of Managed Care, 27 Feb. 2017, https://www.ajmc.com/view/leveraging-remote-behavioral-health-interventions-to-improve-medical-outcomes-and-reduce-costs.
“Telemedicine Benefits and Disadvantages: 10 Pros & Cons.” EVisit, 1 Oct. 2020, https://evisit.com/resources/10-pros-and-cons-of-telemedicine/.
“Cisco Study Reveals 74 Percent of Consumers Open to Virtual Doctor Visit.” The Network, 4 Mar. 2013, https://newsroom.cisco.com/press-release-content?type=webcontent&articleId=1148539.
Patt, Debra, et al. “Telemedicine for Cancer Care.” American Journal of Managed Care, 18 Dec. 2020, https://www.ajmc.com/view/telemedicine-for-cancer-care-implementation-across-a-multicenter-community-oncology-practice.
Sirintrapun, S Joseph, and Ana Maria Lopez. “Telemedicine in Cancer Care.” American Society of Clinical Oncology Educational Book. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Annual Meeting, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 23 May 2018, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30231354/.