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Cancer Care Clinicians Satisfied with Telehealth, Desire Continued Use

mHealth Intelligence

November 30, 2021

Victoria Bailey

Cancer Care Clinicians Satisfied with Telehealth, Desire Continued Use

Cancer care clinicians expressed satisfaction with telehealth use during the pandemic and reported high levels of perceived patient satisfaction as well.

The majority of cancer care clinicians were satisfied with telehealth and expressed intent to continue to use the care modality in the future, a study published in JAMA Network Open revealed.

Much like primary care and other specialty care providers, oncologists turned to telehealth at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, cancer care clinicians use telehealth for symptom management, remote chemotherapy supervision, discussions about clinical trials, palliative care, and survivorship care.

Past studies have shown the success of using telehealth for cancer care. Going forward, these results, combined with positive clinician perception, may help solidify virtual cancer care beyond the pandemic.

Researchers from Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) surveyed 202 multidisciplinary cancer care clinicians within the health system between April 29 and June 5, 2020.

The respondents consisted of 104 medical oncologists, 34 radiation oncologists, 16 breast cancer surgeons, 18 oncology patient navigators, and 30 cancer survivorship clinicians.

KPNC leveraged telehealth even before the pandemic hit, allowing the health system to expand its program quickly when demand grew.

In order to understand clinician perspective on telehealth, researchers asked the survey participants about their satisfaction with the service, the benefits and challenges of virtual care, and the perceived quality of the modality.

Just over 75 percent of respondents said they were somewhat or very satisfied with telehealth. Additionally, 84 percent of clinicians said that they thought their patients were somewhat or highly satisfied as well. Around three-fourths of the participants reported that they thought patient caregivers, colleagues, and non-clinician staff were satisfied with telehealth—76 percent, 81 percent, and 73 percent, respectively.

Researchers asked the clinicians about telehealth’s role in cancer care and how much care can be managed virtually. More than half of respondents (59 percent) said that over 50 percent of assessment and care can be managed by video visits. One-third of respondents were confident that telephone visits could manage more than half of all cancer care while only 4 percent said the same about secure messaging.

The clinician responses about the benefits and challenges of telehealth were generally cohesive. Nearly 80 percent agreed that the reduced commute was a benefit, meanwhile 74 percent agreed that working from home and 65 percent agreed that staying on time were benefits.

The main challenges of telehealth that the clinicians agreed upon were connection problems (84 percent), equipment problems (72 percent), and a physical examination requirement (60 percent). Slightly less than half of the respondents also agreed that it was difficult to assess a performance status through telehealth and there was a lack of staff support.

The majority of clinicians (99 percent) reported that in-person visits promote a strong clinician-patient connection, but many clinicians (77 percent) also said the same about video visits. However, only 43 percent thought telephone visits fostered a strong connection.

Overall, telehealth was considered a successful modality to deliver cancer care, but some clinicians reported that in-person care would be best for certain services including end-of-life discussions, clinical trial enrollment, and shared treatment decisions. Meanwhile, clinicians agreed that patient navigation, survivorship planning, and post-treatment check-in could be delivered sufficiently over the phone.

Importantly, the majority of all cancer care clinicians reported that they would want to maintain or increase their telehealth use after the COVID-19 pandemic. Just over 80 percent of medical oncologists, 85 percent of radiation oncologists, 81 percent of breast surgeons, 61 percent of navigators, and 90 percent of survivorship clinicians shared this desire.

Using telehealth for cancer care can offer increased convenience for patients and providers alike, even after the pandemic ends.

“Collectively, these data suggest that to some extent telehealth will likely remain a key avenue of cancer care delivery in the future,” the study concluded.

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