Teleoncology: How Telehealth is Being Used During COVID-19



Welcome to this week’s healthcare Knowledge Knugget! As a part of “The Executive Innovation Show” podcast, we’re bringing you the hot topics, questions we receive each week and game-changing ideas, best practices and tips. During today’s topic, Dr. Shikha Jain, MD talks about how telehealth is being used in oncology during COVID-19. 


Dr. Shikha Jain, MD is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology and the physician director of social media and communication at the Rush University Cancer Center. She was named one of Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Emerging Leaders in 2019 and is a Public Voices fellow in the OpEd project and is a co-founder of the group IMPACT. You can follow her on social media @ShikhaJainMD. 


Dr. Shikha Jain, MD is going to be talking about everything that she's seeing on the front lines of COVID as a medical oncologist in Chicago. She goes through some great use cases that they're doing during COVID and really what is the future of telehealth for cancer care post-pandemic.


As we look at this patient population who's highly prone with low immune systems, it really is critical to keep them at home. We should use telehealth as follow-ups to their chemo and radiation. Allowing the oncologist to be able to prioritize who they actually need to physically see and who they need to be touching base with. 


There are two sides to this. There's the preventative testing, which has been kind of put on hold during COVID. Then there are actual cancer patients who are going through the process of chemoradiation that oncologists really are keeping a very close eye on this patient population. 


How Has COVID-19 Impacted Cancer Care Across The Country? 


We have found that COVID-19 is a very easily transmissible disease, meaning it's very easy to pass between people, even in some people who don't have any symptoms. And so the challenge for Dr. Jain’s cancer patients has been how to continue their treatment without putting them at unnecessary risk. Providers are doing what they can without exposing them to potential patients who do have coronavirus.


Practices across the country have done a variety of things in order to help prevent the spread and protect our patients. One thing that has been done pretty much globally at this point in the United States is telemedicine. So many patients who don't need to be physically seen are able to access their physicians and their care teams over the phone and through video visits. 


Telehealth has been found to be very effective because patients are able to have a clinic visit when they don't necessarily need to come in. This way they won't have to visit the hospital or the clinic and be unnecessarily exposed. Patients seem to enjoy this type of visit because they're able to do it from their own home.


The challenge with that is you're not able to do a physical exam over the phone. However, the patients who do require physical exams or who need more urgent visits are still seen in the clinic. Now in the clinics, a lot of precautions are taken, rooms are cleaned very thoroughly and patients are maintaining social distancing even in the clinic spaces.


It's also extremely important to remember that there are patients who have some cancers that need to be treated more emergently and do need to start chemotherapy. Those patients are receiving chemotherapy as scheduled. 


However, with the added precautions that are taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 now, there are other patients who are newly diagnosed with cancers that can delay the initiation of treatment. Patients are often watched and have regular visits over the phone or over telehealth. Their treatment is delayed until it is felt that the benefits will outweigh the risks. 


When it comes to cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology have both recommended that patients do not go for preventative imaging or preventative testing at this time. They should only come in if they are deemed to be at higher risk. And that's something that's very personalized and something that needs to be discussed with each patient's physician. 

Has Cancer Care Become More Personalized?


One thing that has happened with COVID-19 is cancer care has become even more personalized. we have found that the patients who really need to be seen are actually coming in to be seen. Those who may benefit from televisits will also be using the benefit of telehealth in the future. 


It is likely that telemedicine will continue to be incorporated in cancer care and that is hopefully one silver lining and one positive that comes out of this global pandemic. We will be able to incorporate these more convenient ways of seeing patients and providing patient care in the future. 


Now patients who are constantly immunocompromised because of their chemotherapy or because of their disease itself, we strongly recommend those patients continue to take precautions. 


We will get through this together. It is a scary time and it's an uncertain time. Many of our plans, treatment plans, and cancer care are being changed and modified on a weekly basis based on the latest information we are receiving. The more we understand about the disease.


Hopefully, after we get through this initial crisis and we get back to some sort of normal state cancer care, we'll be able to continue in the way it did previously. However, we will hopefully have the added benefit of more opportunities for things like tele oncology and care from home than we did previously. 


Learn more about One Touch Telehealth and how telehealth can help providers improve quality care for oncology patients. Register for the “COVID Telehealth Adoption: Why Simple Patient & Physician Experience is Critical” webinar here



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