Almost Two-Thirds of Surveyed Thoracic Oncologists Reported Using Telehealth for the First Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Nearly two-thirds of thoracic oncologists surveyed indicated they used telehealth tools for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report issued by Baird et al at the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) 2021 World Conference on Lung Cancer (Abstract OA17.04).

Telehealth and telemedicine emerged as essential communication tools during the COVID-19 pandemic as alternatives to face-to-face consultation between patients and physicians. To better assess the use of telehealth during the pandemic and the wider impact on thoracic care, the IASLC Communications Committee developed a 24-question survey covering two broad themes concerning the impact of the pandemic on the use of telehealth and lung cancer/mesothelioma care. The survey was administered between April 12, 2021, and May 31, 2021.

Survey Responses

Of the 141 respondents, (37.6% from North America, 31.2% from Europe, and 14.9% from Asia) 65.2% reported they used telehealth for the first time while billing (where appropriate) at normal rates (48.2%); nearly half reported that telehealth is here to stay (48.2%).

The most common barriers to adoption of telehealth were lack of resources for patients (66.1%) and regulatory limitations (56.2%), with patient interest and lack of institutional resources not rated as barriers (43.1% and 41.4%, respectively).

The top advantages for providers/patients were continuity of care and maintenance of contact with patients (88%–92% of respondents). Top disadvantages for providers were lack of human contact (72.9%), lack of patient internet access/technology knowledge (71.3%), and missing informal aspects of face-to-face visits (71.3%); these also ranked as top concerns for patients (74.8%,74%, 76.1%, and 68.4%, respectively).

Physicians felt that telehealth was most appropriate during surveillance (94.1%) and least so for initial diagnosis (69.8%). Most felt that patients were receptive to telehealth (55.3%), however, clinicians worried that its use would increase health-care disparities (29.7%).

Overall, most felt that the pandemic had a negative impact on care (68%), with impacts on accessing diagnostics (ie, biopsy), clinical trials (ie, reduction in trials), basic/translational research (ie, decrease in activity) as well as care (ie, surgery). There was also a decrease in accessing lung cancer screening (86.9%).

“Much will need to be done to counteract the negative impacts on care, clinical trials, and research during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Anne-Marie Baird, PhD, of Trinity College Dublin, and Chair of the IASLC Communications Committee. “Although telehealth has been widely adopted, issues remain, such as health-care access, point of use in the care pathway, and telehealth platform selection.”

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®.