Senior Editor, OncLive®
Hayley Virgil heads OncLive's feature article efforts and specializes in social issues and equality in oncology. Prior to joining the company in early 2020, she worked as an editor in numerous industries, including media, marketing, hospitality, and computer science, and freelanced in subjects such as history, culture, and the natural sciences.
Telehealth is likely to stay in the oncology realm, even after the novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic passes.
Telehealth is likely to stay in the oncology realm, even after the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic passes, according to findings of the first part of the State of the Physician Survey conducted by MJH Life Sciences, which focused on physician and patient communications in the era of COVID-19.
Moreover, the findings revealed that oncologists are most likely to prioritize surgical procedures above all else upon returning to their standard practices, seconded by medical visits.
The survey tapped into the opinions and insights of physicians across a range of health care specialties, including oncology, to discern the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 on patient communications, finances, office visits, practice management, and telehealth. A total of 1324 physicians were surveyed across 9 specialties. Among those, 3.25% (n = 43) of participants were oncologists.
The increased prevalence of telehealth and telecommunications in most practices is no surprise. This was reflected when over half (54%) of physicians surveyed noted that they will continue to utilize these services at a high frequency to serve patients, even after the pandemic has ended.
Overall, there were reported increases in communications across all specialties surveyed. Based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating less communication and 5 indicating more communication, increases were noted across all mediums, including telehealth (4.35), teleconference apps (4.24), telephone (4.2), email (3.38), and health system patient portals (3.37). The real challenge, noted the clinical professionals, is in reaching patients who don’t have access to the technology needed for telehealth services—a challenged faced by 23% of clinical professionals surveyed.
Oncologists, in particular, indicate an intent to continue using telemedicine after the crisis subsides, with clinical professionals on average ranking its role as a 6.5 out of 10 (with 1 being a less frequent use and 10 being commonly used). Additionally, oncologists seem to believe that telemedicine will play a role in communicating treatment delays to patients, ranking its likeliness of use as a 6.17 out of 10. While the majority of oncologists noted that they will be making use of telemedicine and scheduling programs to help manage the influx of patients upon clinics reopening, 20% stated that they were unsure as to what practice management tools they will be using at that time.
Oncologists additionally mentioned a certain level of ease and comfort when it comes to using telecommunications programs and services. When asked about the importance of health care professionals seeking out telemedicine training to better communicate with and care for patients, surveyed oncologists ranked this need at an average of 3.75, indicating that participants already have some proficiency with and are using telemedicine practices and applications.
After 8 to 12 weeks of delaying treatments and procedures that are not life threatening, it begs the question as to which procedures will take priority in oncologic practices as practices reopen. The oncologists surveyed noted surgical procedures as requiring the utmost priority (58.54%), followed by medical visits (53.66%) and radiation (12.20%).
Regarding the re-opening for regular services, all survey participants as a whole expressed the most concern for creating a safe and healthy environment for patients and staff (76.28%), as well as worries about the pandemic worsening and a second wave of cases developing before an improvement is observed (55.51%).
Other concerns include self-risk of viral exposure (53.17%), uncertainty about the future success of practices (42.37%), and a higher demand for time and services (25.98%).
Key lessons taken away by all survey participants from the COVID-19 pandemic, aside from increased use of telecommunications, involve more preparation and flexibility when it comes to stocking personal protective equipment, as well as ensuring a safer and more hygienic environment. They also noted the importance tackling patient fears through compassion and communication.