Cancer appointments by phone or online better than going in-person, surprising research shows

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cancer appointments conducted via phone or online are more effective than in-person visits, according to a new study. The researchers analyzed survey responses from over 39,000 patients across more than 50,000 visits. They compared telemedicine experiences, which include phone or online appointments, with in-person appointments during and after the height of the pandemic.

The surveys were conducted from April 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. The data included over 33,300 patients who had in-person visits and 5,950 patients who had online appointments. In terms of access to care, 62.5 percent of in-person visits were rated as highly satisfying, while 75.8 percent of phone or online appointments received the same rating.

When asked about the response and level of concern demonstrated by their care provider, 84.2 percent of in-person patients reported high satisfaction. In comparison, 90.7 percent of phone appointment patients expressed the same sentiment. The study also found no significant change in satisfaction over time for either category.

“Telemedicine visits can be incorporated into patients’ daily schedules, allowing them to complete appointments before or after work, or during a break. It provides flexibility and ultimately increases access.” comments senior researcher Dr. Philippe Spiess, in a statement.

Telehealth for seniors: Older man on a virtual doctor's visit
Researchers show that patients who have appointments with their doctor over the phone or online were more satisfied than individuals who had visits in person. (© fizkes – stock.adobe.com)

Researchers explain that the pandemic forced a reevaluation of healthcare resources, and that telemedicine proved to be an effective and efficient approach.

“Many of our institutions were forced to adopt telemedicine visits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Travis Osterman, associate vice president for research informatics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “This large, retrospective study shows the patient experience was similar to, or better than, in-person visits during the study period. Going forward, oncology practices need to consider telemedicine as an option for appropriate patients.”

However, the researchers noted that not all oncology visits should be virtual. Careful patient selection is crucial in determining which patients require in-person appointments for tests and other treatments.

The research is published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network from Moffitt Cancer Center.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, is the use of telecommunications and digital information technologies to provide healthcare services remotely. It enables healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients without the need for in-person visits. Telehealth encompasses a wide range of services, including video consultations, remote patient monitoring, online medical prescriptions, and electronic health records.

Telehealth offers several benefits, such as increased access to healthcare for people in remote or underserved areas, reduced travel time and costs, improved patient engagement, and the ability to manage chronic conditions more effectively. It can also help reduce healthcare costs and ease the burden on healthcare systems. However, some challenges include ensuring the quality of care, maintaining privacy and security of patient data, and addressing legal and regulatory issues.

South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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