Prostate cancer patients often have financial costs associated with their care. Expert Dr. Leanne Burnham details ways that telemedicine reduces financial toxicity for prostate cancer care — and shares some of her own experience as a cancer patient when she was a doctoral student.
Dr. Leanne Burnham
So speaking about financial toxicity, let’s just talk about it when it comes to medical treatment in general. Financial toxicity comes in many forms, and I can speak to this a little bit on a personal level, I myself was a cancer patient when I was a doctoral student, and I had to take nine months off of school and do chemo and surgeries, and the whole nine yards and the strain that puts financially on a family depends on what kind of safety guard you have in place ahead of time. When you’re not expecting to get cancer when you’re a young person, it can throw a monkey wrench for sure. And so in my own personal situation, my husband owns a barbershop, and he doesn’t have sick days, right, so if he doesn’t go to work, leave and he doesn’t come home with money. So that time that I was sick, that was stressful on us, because he didn’t necessarily want to call off, but he wanted to call off so that he could be with me, and he’s very concerned after I’m having my treatment, but at the same time, he needs to go to work. And so the stress that that creates for the patient, for the caregiver, that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the healing process, because what we know is that stress kills literally, quite literally, and I’ve published on that topic before. As it pertains to prostate cancer, we know that chronic stress, cumulative stress spread out over time dysregulates your hormone function and leads to all kinds of disease, metabolic diseases, cancer down the road.
So financial toxicity is a real thing, and there are ways that telemedicine can help to mitigate some of that financial toxicity. So, for example, when you don’t have to call off work, let’s say to make your televisit, then that’s a really great thing. When you don’t have to try to find child care so that you can go to your appointments because now at the hospital setting or the doctors’ offices, you can’t bring your kids with you like you used to be able to just…okay, come sit in the waiting room, or come in the room. It’s not like that you can’t even enter the building most of the time, and so a lot of people have to try to find child care if they were going to go to the doctor in-person. But the benefit of telemedicine is you don’t have to do that, so that’s a saved cost. I know myself; I’ve taken televisit appointments during my lunch break while I’m in lab, and that just works out a lot better, it’s not a day that I have to call off work in order to make that happen. The other way that telemedicine can help reduce cost is there can be reduced visits to, let’s say, urgent care or the emergency room.
I can think of a few situations during this quarantine era with my kids even where certain symptoms come up and I think, “Oh, I really need to take him to urgent care,” but I schedule a video appointment with their doctor, the doctor goes over a symptom checklist and says, “You know what, you don’t need to actually bring them in for an appointment, just bring them in and have them do this lab work real quick and just be in and out, and then we’ll let you know if there needs to be a follow-up.” And then most of the time, there doesn’t need to be a follow-up, or there’s just a prescription that’s needed, and you avoid the extra cost of what going to urgent care would have been, going to the emergency room would have been. And you’re reducing your exposure to COVID, which is not a financial toxicity question, but that’s a benefit that telemedicine has as well.