Virtual oncology visits may lessen the financial toxicity of cancer treatments, according to recent research.
When telehealth became more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients with cancer told Dr. Krupal B. Patel that the option to meet with their clinicians vitually saved them time and money. Later, Patel and his team conducted research that verified that there is, indeed, a cost savings associated with virtual cancer visits.
“(Telehealth) is very beneficial to patients,” Patel, an assistant member in the department of head and neck–endocrine oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa Florida, said in an interview with CURE®. “Our research, hopefully will allow other health care providers and health care systems to continue to advocate for implementing telemedicine.”
The researchers analyzed the costs of more than 11,000 patients with cancer who were under the age of 65 and treated at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center between April 2020 and June 2021. They analyzed cost of travel and loss of income from the time spent at medical appointments.
On average, the total cost savings from telehealth compared with traditional in-person visits ranged from $147.40 to $178.10 per visit. Of note, these numbers could also be higher or lower for each individual based on how far they must travel to their appointment (on average it was about three hours roundtrip), how much money it costs to drive there and their personal income, Patel noted.
“A lot of our patients have multiple (oncology) visits through the course of the year for their treatment … so the money saved goes a long way for someone who may already be facing financial distress especially during active treatment,” Patel said.
However, Patel also emphasized that not all oncology visits should be virtual; there are many times when it is more appropriate for patients to visit the clinic and see their care team in-person for medical tests and other treatments.
“Careful patient selection is very critical,” Patel said.
Some of the current services that Patel and other clinicians at Moffitt Cancer Center offer virtually are regular follow-up, pre- and post-operative visits, triage visits, pre-visit information sessions and medication review.
Patel said that providers will carefully choose patients whose exam would not change regardless of it was conducted virtually or in-person. They will then schedule the patient for a telehealth appointment — similar to a scheduled appointment if they were visiting the clinic.
Patel hopes that this study — as well as his team’s ongoing research, which looks at environmental factors of telemedicine as well as patient experience with virtual visits — will lay the groundwork for more health care institutions to create infrastructures to support telehealth and for insurance providers to cover it.
“After about a year, year and a half, there were talks that the insurance companies and (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services) were looking at cutting their reimbursement rates and potentially not supporting telemedicine,” Patel said. “What we what we wanted to highlight is that this is very beneficial for patients, we wanted to put certain numbers in front of people and say these are some objective cost savings that we think that patients receive and benefit from, and we want to advocate for telemedicine to be incorporated and be integral as part of care delivery, and especially in cancer care delivery.”
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