Remote access to healthcare – also known as telehealth of telemedicine – has become broadly used, especially by cancer patients. As an avenue toward reducing inequities, the Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) is fostering change toward achieving equitable healthcare for all. One resource, the Prostate Cancer TelemEDucation Resource Center, helps improve prostate cancer patients’ and care partners’ familiarity with healthcare, and thus increase quality of care regardless of the COVID pandemic, geographical location, or racial disparities. The program focuses on the specific needs of Black men and other vulnerable communities to most effectively reduce the disparities that prevent access to equitable cancer treatment.
Here’s a summary view of the knowledge gained about telemedicine to help provide optimal care to prostate cancer patients and to aid in receiving optimal care no matter virus limitations, where patients live, and disparities by race.
Benefits and Limitations of Telemedicine Visits
There are both benefits and limitations of telemedicine visits. Some benefits to keep in mind about telehealth visits include:
- Active surveillance with lab tests every few months along with telemedicine visits are a good fit for low-risk prostate cancer.
- Patients with high-risk prostate cancer can increase the frequency of their telemedicine visits along with their recommended in-person treatments.
- Laboratory test results and prescription information can often be accessed in online patient portals.
- Remote monitoring is used to reduce the risk of infection for those with reduced immune system function, such as those with prostate cancer.
Telemedicine cannot handle all parts of the prostate cancer care toolkit, however. Some limitations of telehealth include:
- Prostate cancer treatments like radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy cannot be carried out via telemedicine.
- Virtual care visits may prevent equitable care access for some patients like those who lack access to a reliable Internet connection or to a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
- Patients with low health literacy or limited English language fluency may face obstacles to utilizing telemedicine.
How to Optimize a Telemedicine Visit
Just like in-person care visits, telemedicine visits are scheduled with a time limit in mind. Some things to remember about telemedicine visits are:
- Try to write down your questions for your doctor or care provider before your appointment to keep on track. Keep it next to you for easy access during your visit.
- If a video conferencing tool is needed for your visit, install the tool on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone ahead of time to prevent rushing before your appointment. If possible, try to test the video conferencing tool with a friend or loved one a day or so ahead of your appointment.
- If you normally have a friend or loved one join you for in-person visits, have them join your telemedicine to help take notes and to ask questions.
- If there’s anything you don’t understand during the appointment, ask your doctor to explain it again – whether it’s medication instructions, test results, a new medical term, or anything else.
- If you feel like a treatment isn’t working well for you, ask your doctor about possible medication or dosage changes.
- Just like in-person doctor visits, your doctor or care provider may run a few minutes late. Try your best to remain flexible and to be patient.
Telemedicine and Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials
Now that even more prostate cancer patients have become accustomed to using telemedicine care tools, there are more clinical trial options. Looking ahead, keep in mind that:
- Telemedicine can help prostate cancer patients with lower socio-economic status or who live in very remote areas to gain access to clinical trials that weren’t accessible to them in the past.
- Prostate cancer therapies will continue to improve for BIPOC patients – and especially for Black men – as a higher percentage of prostate cancer patients participate in clinical trials.
- Clinical trials provide VIP access to cutting-edge treatments and help to determine the best care for specific BIPOC groups as more patients participate in trials.
Financial Benefits of Telemedicine
Telemedicine has brought some financial benefits for prostate cancer patients, including:
- Telemedicine saves the time and costs of traveling to appointments and can reduce or sometimes eliminate the need to take time off from work for an appointment.
- The use of telemedicine eliminates the need to find child care for patients and care partners with young children who couldn’t take them along to in-person doctor appointments.
- The option of connecting with your doctor via telemedicine can sometimes eliminate the need for costly urgent care visits.
Here are some helpful telemedicine terms to know:
- HIPAA – HIPAA, or the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, is a healthcare compliance law providing data security and privacy for the safeguarding of patient medical information. In telemedicine, provider-patient communication must take place through HIPAA-compliant secure platforms.
- Patient portal – a secure Internet sign-on that allows patients to contact their provider, review medical tests and records, access health education materials, and seek appointments. Most provider networks develop a patient portal before they move to full video appointments.
- Remote monitoring – type of ambulatory healthcare where patients use mobile medical devices to perform a routine test and send the test data to a healthcare professional in real-time.
- VPN – a VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure and private way to connect to the Internet over public wireless connections. VPNs are particularly important for those living the digital nomad lifestyle and connecting in foreign countries where networks may be more vulnerable to communication transmission interference.
Now that telemedicine tools are gaining both in usage and numbers, prostate cancer patients can feel hopeful about improved care and treatment toward the future. As a step in that direction, take advantage of the resources below and continue to visit the Prostate Cancer TelemEDucation Resource Center for informative content about prostate cancer and telemedicine.