Trying to navigate your cancer care journey is challenging enough without the added stress of a global pandemic. Normally, you would schedule an in-person consultation with a physician to discuss your treatment options. Understandably though, many cancer patients now have reservations about going out in public during the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, telehealth provides a safe way for someone with cancer to continue moving forward with their care in a timely manner.
Provision CARES Proton Therapy implemented an expanded telehealth program in March 2020. This has allowed us to continue helping cancer patients in a safe environment, while also limiting the number of people at our centers. Since March, our physicians have conducted many telehealth consultations and virtual follow-up appointments. Our telehealth program allows someone who has been recently diagnosed with cancer to remain at home and speak directly to a physician through a video connection about their diagnosis, treatment options and next steps. Our Cancer Care Experts can help patients through this process.
CANCER CARE PROVIDERS TURN TO TECHNOLOGY
The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of the healthcare industry. When the outbreak began to gain momentum in the United States, hospitals made operational changes to accommodate a potential influx of COVID-19 patients. Many general practitioners and specialists began to postpone well-visits and elective procedures. Specialty healthcare providers, including cancer treatment centers, also made adjustments to keep their patients, employees and visitors safe. Many of those providers, including Provision CARES Proton Therapy, turned to technology, broadening their ability to provide cancer care through the use of telehealth.
A recent survey indicated nearly half of all physicians are now communicating with patients through telemedicine, a stark rise from just two years ago. The survey, conducted by Merritt Hawkins, a physician search firm, in collaboration with The Physicians Foundation, sought to learn how COVID-19 is impacting physicians and how they are responding. It found that 48 percent of physicians are using telemedicine with patients. A similar study by The Physicians Foundation in 2018 had that number at just 18 percent.
The increase in telehealth usage was aided further after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced they would broaden access to Medicare telehealth services as part of the federal government’s emergency pandemic response.
CANCER & TELEHEALTH FROM A PHYSICIAN’S PERSPECTIVE
Since the use of telehealth for medical appointments is becoming more common, we’re providing some firsthand insight into how it works and why it’s such a valuable tool for cancer patients. We asked the medical director of Provision CARES Proton Therapy Nashville, Dr. James Gray, a few questions about his experience with telehealth during the pandemic. Dr. Gray is a board-certified radiation oncologist who has spent 30 years studying cancer and helping patients navigate their cancer care journey.
What are your general thoughts on the use of telehealth for cancer care?
“I believe telehealth substantially contributes to our ability to communicate with patients. While this applies across all areas of healthcare, it particularly applies to services which are restricted or to which there is limited access. Proton therapy is a prime example of this. I can interact with and advise patients who might not otherwise find it reasonable or even possible to travel to our center, or any other proton center. Such patients may find that proton therapy has possible benefits for their circumstance and might make the trip worthwhile.”
What kind of feedback have you heard from cancer patients who’ve used telehealth?
“Generally good. Telehealth allows us to help prevent a delay in the cancer patient’s process. As long as an in-person assessment is not necessary, then a telehealth consult allows me to counsel a patient quite well based on medical records and images forwarded to us in advance. If equally feasible, an in-person visit is still superior for this communication, but a telehealth visit allows me to get the message across and answer the patient’s questions.”
What would you tell a patient who’s nervous about trying a telehealth appointment?
“I reassure the patient and family members that the telehealth visit can start the process of managing their cancer, but more interactions will follow in order to answer subsequent questions and direct further workup of their disease. If the reason the patient feels nervous or uncomfortable is simply a technology concern, we can have our administrative staff reach out to them and their family to provide assistance.”
As a doctor, how has telehealth helped you during the coronavirus pandemic?
“It allows me to interact with more patients, and in a more timely manner, than I otherwise could due to visitation restrictions, or perhaps just logistics of travel for the patient. I receive gratification from counseling patients through a rough time, always hoping to alleviate concerns and fears about issues they don’t understand and taking away some of the uncertainty of their next steps.”
Are there other ways cancer care providers are taking advantage of technology during the pandemic?
“Besides avoiding unnecessary contact between care providers and patients, physicians have suspended our in-person meetings called tumor boards or tumor conferences. But there is a silver lining to this change because we have been forced to become better at virtual meetings, allowing us to exchange ideas and recommendations through audio/visual software. Again, in-person meetings will likely always be preferable when reasonable, but the ability to attend the meeting virtually from your office or home has been given a big boost during this time. Ultimately, comfort with this type of meeting attendance makes the meeting more accessible. And the more we interact, the better we explore all options for our patients.”
To learn more about Dr. Gray and the other board-certified radiation oncologists at Provision CARES Proton Therapy, please visit Our Physicians page. If you are interested in learning more about proton therapy or scheduling a telehealth consultation, please call the Treatment Location closest to you and speak with one of our Cancer Care Experts.