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Study Examines Opinions on Telemedicine Among Patients Undergoing Radiotherapy


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New research published by Shaverdian et al in JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network assessed patient satisfaction and preferences associated with telemedicine. Researchers found 45% of people with cancer undergoing radiotherapy preferred telemedicine, whereas 34% preferred office visits, and 21% had no preference.

Study Methods and Findings

The researchers reviewed survey responses from 1,077 radiation oncology patients treated at the main campus of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and six regional locations across New York and New Jersey. The questionnaires were based on office and telemedicine visits between December 2019 and June 2020.

In terms of patient satisfaction, most reported either no difference or improvement with telemedicine overall compared to office visits (91%), with similar results for confidence in their physician (90%), understanding their treatment plans (88%), and confidence their cancer will be treated appropriately (87%).

“These findings provide some evidence that there is a role for telemedicine beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and that it can be a particularly useful tool for certain patients, especially those who may have challenges coming on-site for an appointment,” said co-lead author Narek Shaverdian, MD, of the Department of Radiation Oncology at MSK. “Giving patients flexibility and options by being able to see them both in-person and through telemedicine can improve access to care.”

Notably, the survey results found that two-thirds of respondents considered telemedicine to be a superior option when it came to treatment-related costs, such as travel and lost wages.

KEY POINTS

  • 45% of people with cancer undergoing radiotherapy preferred telemedicine, 34% preferred office visits, and 21% had no preference.
  • In terms of patient satisfaction, most reported either no difference or improvement with telemedicine overall compared to office visits (91%).
  • Two-thirds of respondents considered telemedicine to be a superior option when it came to treatment-related costs, such as travel and lost wages.
  • Patients who had telephone-only appointments were more likely to say they thought they would benefit more from an in-person visit.

“An individual visit to the physician’s office can be costly, including transportation, parking, and time off from other activities,” said co-lead author Erin F. Gillespie, MD, also of the Department of Radiation Oncology at MSK. “Telemedicine takes away most of this cost and inconvenience and could therefore reduce the overall burden of engaging with the health-care system. Also, the ability for family and friends to join the conversation from any location can be game-changing.”

The researchers found patient responses varied significantly between video conferencing vs audio. Patients who had telephone-only appointments were more likely to say they thought they would benefit more from an in-person visit.

“Telemedicine can be a resource to increase access to care, but only if patients have and can use these video capabilities,” said Dr. Shaverdian. “There is so much that you learn just by seeing a patient and using visual cues to guide a discussion. A voice-only encounter with a patient you’ve never met before is challenging.”

“Digital tools like telemedicine have the unfortunate potential consequence of paradoxically increasing disparities in access to care,” noted Dr. Gillespie. “But the counter to that is there will be some disadvantaged patients who would not have accessed the system at all, either due to technologic barriers or travel time, and now can connect at least by phone, which is an important and positive change.”

The NCCN EHR Oncology Advisory Group also recently published research in JCO Oncology Practice sharing the oncologist perspective on telemedicine. They surveyed 1,038 providers from 26 institutions in the summer of 2020, and found an estimated 46% of postpandemic visits could be virtual.

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit jnccn.org.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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