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Breast Cancer Telemedicine Tips: How to Make the Most of Your Visit

We all have acknowledged that the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the use of telehealth services. You should have a choice on who you feel comfortable with on your healthcare team and now telemedicine grants that choice to many populations.

Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients living in a rural area or farther from major academic health centers are now able to obtain second opinions from experts without travel and with minimal exposure to COVID-19. The quality of a televisit does not differ from an in-person visit. Although you’ll be without a physical exam, your provider can still prescribe medications and send you for various tests/blood work.

Tips

Know When to Use Telehealth

If you are unsure that your chief complaint requires a telehealth visit versus an in-person visit, ask. You can avoid an unnecessary trip or multiple appointments.

Find Out What Telehealth System Will Be Used

Will your appointment be via phone call, or will there be video? Is there an application you should download, or is it accessible via your web browser? Is this televisit covered by your insurance? Don’t be afraid to overprepare. In the end, it saves time and benefits everyone involved in the appointment.

Connect With a Plan

Telemedicine may seem less formal causing us to not be as prepared as we would for an in-person visit. Write your questions and concerns down. Just because you’re connecting virtually does not make your appointment time any less important.

Bring a Loved One

At first thought, you may see no reason why someone should accompany you to your telehealth visit; however, you still need that support. It’s okay to have someone in the room or even on camera with you. Your provider will not mind and will encourage it. Many times, emotions are high in the exam room, and we hear what our providers are saying, but we’re not really listening. Having support at your telehealth appointment ensures that you won’t be overwhelmed with trying to remember every detail. The best part is that with telehealth your loved one can join from almost anywhere in the world!

Stay Informed

Telehealth extends beyond appointments. It also includes patient portals. If you have a quick question for any member of your healthcare team, more than likely there is a system that you can use to quickly contact someone. Your patient portal can also give you easy access to results of blood tests, urinalysis, and more.

Telehealth services are likely here to stay. As you enter survivorship of your breast cancer care, annual visits can be maintained via telehealth. While in survivorship, you’ll most likely no longer be seeing multiple doctors on a regular basis for your care. With telehealth, you are able to maintain your health with one provider during survivorship without taking time off of work, finding childcare and/or sacrificing travel plans. As telehealth services continue to develop and to improve, the future of breast cancer care will steadily become more accessible.

Check out the following programs in our Breast Cancer TelemEDucation Resource Center:

What Role Does Telemedicine Play in Acute Myeloid Leukemia Care?

What Role Does Telemedicine Play in Acute Myeloid Leukemia Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In acute myeloid leukemia (AML) care, how can telemedicine be used? Watch as expert Dr. Catherine Lai shares different situations where telemedicine has served as a helpful tool and instances when in-person visits are optimal for patient care.

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Empowered AML Patient: Ask the AML Expert

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What Treatments Are on the Horizon for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Patients?

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What Role Does a Multidisciplinary Team Play in AML Care? 


Transcript:

Sasha Tanori:

My care team suggested a clinical trial for a new drug focusing on improving my lung function, fortunately, my lungs improved on their own. Dr. Lai, not every AML patient is offered a clinical trial as a care option, what advice do you have for AML patients who are seeking clinical trials, and what’s the best way to locate one?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

Yeah, so this is an area, a huge area of unmet need, I would say in general, across all oncology trials, and I think less than 10 percent of the patient population is on trials, there’s a lot of stigmas around clinical trials and are you getting…are you getting a drug that we don’t know what’s going to work, am I being…am I being tested? In oncology, I would say for the most part, we try to make trials where you’re being measured to the standard, so you’re getting the standard plus, or we’re trying not to…just in terms of doing what’s best for the patient, in general, I don’t offer trials to patients where I don’t think that there’s scientifically a rationale for those drugs, but to answer your question, the best place to look is on clinicaltrials.gov. That’s cumbersome. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, I can give you a lot of unnecessary information. There are a lot of other resources out there, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a great resource. I know that they have online or people that you can talk to in terms of helping you direct specific clinical trials, I know depending on where you live in the country, there are other local new chapters, oncology chapters that we have that can help patients find…

And have access to clinical trials, and then I think the biggest thing is just if a patient is with the community oncologist, having enough education to say, can I have a referral to an academic institution where they can ask those questions and get that information, and local community oncologists are fantastic, but they see everything, they see breast cancer, they see one cancer where the academic centers were specialized where all I see is leukemia and MDS kind of acute leukemias. So, it’s just a different set of knowledge.

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Lung Cancer Advocate Shares How to Optimize Your Telemedicine Visit

Lung Cancer Advocate Shares How to Optimize Your Telemedicine Visit from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can lung cancer patients optimize their telemedicine visits? Watch as lung cancer patient Jill shares her top tips for how to prepare for virtual visits and how to advocate for yourself when communicating for optimal care.

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Transcript:

Jill:

One thing that someone else recently mentioned to me is to be patient with the doctor who might be late, and I don’t mind actually, the doctor’s late or early. I’ve had a doctor be up to half an hour early or up to an hour late, and that doesn’t bother me, I just go on living life and doing other things while I wait for the call, but I do book a bigger chunk of time on my calendar with the expectation that doctors are really busy people and they can’t always predict how long something else will go or what would come up, so it’s good to be understanding about it for sure. 

It’s also helpful for me and a lot of people to write a list of questions, symptoms, and make sure that you get them all answered, so write them down and actually check them off, or cross them off while you’re in the appointment, because you don’t wanna walk away from there thinking, oh shoot, there was that one big question I had and some doctors are okay with getting an email or something between appointments, and some nurses are great to call, but not everyone has that opportunity. 

So, I would say, make the most of your appointment just like you would in-person. Take good care to make sure that you’re advocating for yourself, and if the doctor says words after you ask your cost your question, you don’t feel like you understood them. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid or anything… just ask again, ask for clarification. Sometimes these doctors talk in big words, and my doctor has been great, my oncologist he would like draw pictures and I ask him often to write words down for me if I don’t know how to spell them because why would I know how to spell that? I don’t have a medical and oncology degree, so there’s no shame in asking questions, asking questions is smart, and it helps make us better informed, and it’s true that a better informed and a better-informed patient is a more empowered patient, and we tend to have better outcomes, when we know what’s going on in our treatment, so take the time to ask your questions.

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Lung Cancer Patient Shares Why Telemedicine Should Be a Long-Term Tool

Lung Cancer Patient Shares Why Telemedicine Should Be a Long-Term Tool from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Can lung cancer patients look to telemedicine as a long-term tool in their care? Watch as lung cancer patient Jill explains how telehealth has been a benefit for her care and how it can serve as a benefit for other patients.

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Transcript:

Jill:

In the future, I hope that telemedicine plays a really significant role in my care and in the care of others as well, so I would really like to not have to travel to my cancer clinic for every single appointment. For some of them, I definitely want to go. There are times when we want to look our doctor or nurse in the eye and really have strong, stronger communication, but for the most part, I would rather not have to travel and I live really close to my cancer center, so I always think about people who live farther away, and there are so many people who travel hours, there are people who travel days to get to their appointments, there are people who have to leave their communities and be, away for an extended period of time, and that’s not something that I would want to do, especially when we’re in a going counter treatment, we can feel so alone and fragile, and I would rather that people had more support and other people with them could stay at home, could stay in their communities and just have a call and their people could be with them if they wanted it during the call, they can all gather around and listen to.

And I think it matters so much. It’s not just convenience, it’s better care for people to have their loved ones near them, that’s one thing we’ve learned during COVID, even more so that it’s not good to be alone. It’s good to have our loved ones near us supporting us, and so as much as possible, if we can keep telemedicine as an option to use for the times when it doesn’t really matter if we’re in person or not, let’s make that choice, let’s make second opinions available let’s work out whatever permissions need to be in place for people to get care across regional lines or state lines, let’s get those things in place so that we can provide the best care possible, and let’s always be thinking about our most vulnerable people, and those are usually the people in the rural and remote regions, the people with a really hard cancer diagnosis, the people who are feeling alone and vulnerable, let’s take it, care of them.

Understanding Telemedicine Pros and Cons for Lung Cancer Patients

Understanding Telemedicine Pros and Cons for Lung Cancer Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What can lung cancer patients expect for telemedicine opportunities and challenges? Watch as lung cancer patient Jill shares some situations telemedicine has served well and some patients who have run into care disparities.

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Transcript:

Jill:

Telemedicine offers some opportunities as well as challenges, so I’ll speak to some of the challenges at first, which are…we don’t in-person, tend to build relationships as quickly. In general, I find when we’re just talking over the phone, when we’re in-person, we can get to know each other more comfortably, for the most part, everyone is unique, so you could be different, but for me, the relationship-building aspect is something that I’ve missed out on to some degree. 

And the doctor may miss some visual cues, so for example, there might be something that he or she would pick up on, would notice some sort of symptom or side effect that we had perhaps not noticed, we’re not, thought important enough to raise. So those are challenges. How do we get past not being able to see each other, so also, what if the doctor is delivering some tough news that could be harder to do if we’re not in-person, if we’re not able to see those visual, non-verbal cues, that can help us understand how to help the doctor understand how the patient is processing, receiving the news. Another thing is that sometimes patients, and I’m not going to say that I do this, but I’ve heard quite a few patients say that they might try to hide some of their side effects because they’re concerned that they’ll get a reduced dose and they’re concerned that it won’t be as effective. 

Now, from what I’ve heard, you know I understand that’s not a really wise choice to make, but everyone makes their own choices, and so if the patient is trying to hide the side effects from their doctor and their nurse, it might be more helpful for that patient to actually be present with their healthcare team, so the healthcare providers can actually notice and pick up on things. 

The opportunities are really powerful though, because it frees up so much more time for the system and generally, we often, I’ve had an awful lot of appointments, I know my oncologist quite well because I’ve had the same one since 2013, and we don’t need to talk for a long time, so usually 10 minutes is good and it saves the travel time in. Also, it opens up possibilities for remote consults with potentially anyone anywhere in the world, which is so terrific as an opportunity for a second opinion perhaps, or for someone who doesn’t have a doctor in their community, it makes it so much easier for them to gain access to care that they need.

And we really need to focus on the disparities that occur, especially people in rural and remote regions can miss out on some of the best healthcare. And if this is a great opportunity for us to serve them better.

Lung Cancer Patient Shares Why Telemedicine Is an Important Tool

Lung Cancer Patient Shares Why Telemedicine Is an Important Tool from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can telemedicine serve as a vital tool in lung cancer care? Watch as stage IV lung cancer patient Jill shares how telehealth has helped her during the COVID-19 pandemic and how she views it in the future of her care.

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Lung Cancer Patient Shares Why Telemedicine Should Be a Long-Term Tool

 

Transcript:

Jill:

I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer back in 2013, and prior to the COVID pandemic, I had never had a telemedicine appointment, but now that I’ve had quite a few.

I think they’re such an important tool in lung cancer care, especially during a pandemic, when they protect us from exposure to various potential infections, not just COVID, but it can protect us from illness, so that’s terrific. But also, they’re really convenient, I just have a quick 10-minute appointment, there is no waiting in the waiting room, there’s no traveling to the clinic, which is…I’ll be honest, that’s not a very big inconvenience for me because I live quite close to my cancer center, but especially for people in rural and remote regions, what a game changer it can be to just be able to talk on the phone or perhaps have a video chat with a health care provider. So, I think that telemedicine is a very important tool in lung cancer care, and I hope that it will continue, maybe not 100 percent of the time, but there will still be available to him after the pandemic is over.

Lung Cancer Patient Shares Top Tips for Utilizing Telemedicine

Lung Cancer Patient Shares Top Tips for Utilizing Telemedicine from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Stage IV lung cancer survivor and nurse Gina has taken advantage of telemedicine opportunities in her care. Watch as she shares her perspective about the benefits of telemedicine and her hopes for the future. In Gina’s words, “..no matter where they are in the world, I don’t think that where you live should determine if you live, I think everyone should have access to the very best care…”

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Transcript:

Gina:

When it comes to telemedicine, I think that we have to think of it as an adjunct to care, so it wouldn’t replace your actual care with your doctor, and so I think that utilizing telemedicine would really just be kind of like getting a second opinion, getting somebody else to look at your case, and it would have been an opportunity really for you and your community doctor to work with an expert in the field, wherever, whatever disease state you’re being treated it with, and I think that’s one of the silver linings of COVID that we can use, so it wouldn’t necessarily be that telemedicine is taking over your care, but it’s really just an adjunct to your care. So, you would still be touched by your doctor, you still would be assessed by your community doctor, but that community doctor would be leaning on the expertise of the doctor in which you’re getting a second opinion or you’re consulting with…so I think that’s the way that we have to think of telemedicine and diversifying and really making sure that everybody has access to the best care, it’s not really in placement of your normal care, but just an adjunct, so in addition to your care. 

One thing that I really hope that we can benefit from is…I hope that we can really learn from COVID. We learned that really there is a disease that is not defined by borders, and so I hope that we can use the opportunities and the things the way that we were, so I guess we persevered in spite of a disease, I hope we can use that for clinical trials to and so what I mean by that is I feel like the silver lining of COVID was telemedicine, and we were able to provide telemedicine to patients no matter where they were, no matter how they felt, they were able to have the best of the best care right in the comfort of their own home. And so one of the things that I actually personally benefited from was because of COVID, telemedicine was open up everywhere, and so I was able to actually get care from some of the best ALK cancer experts in Boston through telemedicine, and so I wasn’t actually required to travel to Boston instead, I could meet with that doctor by Zoom, and sadly, once the COVID mandates were lifted, that hospital was no longer providing telemedicine, so I was getting this great care, this expert advice in my disease process, and all of a sudden it was stopped, and so I hope that one of the things that we can do is figure out ways to utilize telemedicine to really bring the best care to patients no matter where they are in the United States or really…no matter where they are in the world, I don’t think that where you live should determine if you live, I think everyone should have access to the very best care, and I think it can be delivered through telemedicine.

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MPN Patient Shares Advice for Making the Most of Telemedicine Visit

MPN Patient Shares Advice for Making the Most of Telemedicine Visit from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloproliferative neoplasm patient Debbie has had the opportunity to utilize telemedicine in her care. Watch as she shares the pros and cons of telehealth methods in her blood cancer monitoring and her advice to other patients for optimizing virtual visits.

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Transcript:

Debbie:

I think there is definitely a place for telemedicine in our care. It has enabled us to, or enable me to keep in touch with my hematologist and to understand where my blood counts currently are. What I would also say is, it’s…that there are positives and negatives. I think that the positive of it is the fact that I’ve got a regular update on what my blood counts actually are. I think the negatives of it can be, is that it is quite easy just to move the conversation quite quickly forward. It’s easier for me to just say, everything’s all okay. Thank you for updating me over the telephone, then it is perhaps if I was actually sat in front of somebody.

I think that the challenges it presents is that personal touch, is that feeling of being able to have a one-to-one relationship with your consultant. I don’t think you have that over the telephone.

So, some of the tips that I would share are that you keep in regular contact with your hematologist, you keep regular information on your blood counts, but you keep in a very, very safe environment. You do keep in a safe environment, and that I think is something that’s enormously important. A tip that I would probably give is that make sure that in between your appointments, you do what you would do regularly on a face-to-face and make notes of the things that you want to talk about…because I quite often put the phone down and think, I wish I had said that when I go to the hospital, I will have my notes in front of me and I put them on the table, and I’ll cross-check them with the hematologist at the time, I tend not to do that on the telephone, and perhaps I should, so I would definitely recommend that you treat the tele appointment exactly the same as you would the hospital appointment.

MPN Patient and Care Partner Tips for Utilizing Telemedicine

MPN Patient and Care Partner Tips for Utilizing Telemedicine from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myelofibrosis patient Summer Golden and care partner Jeff Bushnell have learned the ins and outs of telemedicine. Watch as they share some advantages of virtual visits, instances when in-person visits are used for MPN monitoring, and their tips for optimizing telemedicine visits.

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Transcript:

Jeff Bushnell:

We are very fortunate to live in San Diego here where there are major medical centers and research universities and so on, but a lot of people aren’t… and these MPNs are very, very rare diseases. And there are not a lot of doctors that specialize in them, so telemedicine will allow you to contact a specialist.

I know when we see the Summer’s doctor in-person, she does a physical exam specifically to check her spleen size, which is an important aspect of almost all of these MPNs and without the ability to do that the doctor is working all solely from blood counts.

Summer Golden:

It’s just like Zoom, it’ll never go away, and I do believe telemedicine will be here forever, another technical advantage.

Jeff Bushnell:

I think, especially after COVID, people are more used to telemedicine, and in the MPN community anyway, because of the lack of large numbers of doctors that know much about it, like telemedicine will open up sort of a new, a new type of being able to treat MPNs, just because more people will be able to contact specialists.

Summer Golden:

A top tip I think, it’s sort of logical, but is to have the questions and issues written out because it’s a limited matter of time and to specifically jot down the answers.

Jeff Bushnell:

Another tip would be to ensure that you have the appropriate stuff on whatever device you’re using to talk to the doctor on. We’ve used about three or four different apps as it were on our phone to communicate with different doctors, and you need to make sure that that works ahead of time. Usually, the way they do it is they set up the appointment, they contact you ahead of time, and make sure that it’s going to work before they put the doctor online. But that’s very important that you have the technical ability to ensure that your equipment can support telemedicine. They’re making it pretty easy, but you still have to do it.

Why Should You Ask Your Doctor About Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing?

Why Should You Ask Your Doctor About Prostate Cancer Genetic Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why is it genetic testing important when it comes to prostate cancer care? Learn how test results could reveal more about YOUR prostate cancer and may indicate that one treatment may be more effective than another.

See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer

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Treatment Options for Advanced Prostate Cancer

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Transcript:

Why should you ask your doctor about genetic testing?

The test results may predict how your prostate cancer will behave and could indicate that one type of treatment may be more effective than another type.

Genetic testing identifies specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities, and/or other molecular changes that are unique to YOU and YOUR prostate cancer.

There are two main types of genetic tests used in prostate cancer:

  • Germline or hereditary genetic testing, which is conducted via blood or saliva and identifies inherited gene mutations in the body. Germline mutations are present from birth and can be shared among family members and passed on to subsequent generations. Results can identify whether you could be at risk for another type of cancer or if your family members may need genetic counseling and testing to guide their own cancer risk.
  • The second is somatic or tumor genetic testing, which is performed through testing tumor tissue or by testing cancer cells/DNA extracted from blood to identify gene mutations that are unique to the cancer itself. It is also commonly referred to as genomic testing, biomarker testing, or molecular profiling. Somatic mutations are NOT inherited and are NOT passed on to subsequent generations or shared among family members.
  • Depending on your history, your doctor may order one–or both–of these types of tests.

So why do the test results matter?

Both germline and somatic mutation testing can identify the presence of certain genetic mutations that may help to guide your treatment plan, and germline testing specifically can inform cancer risk for you and, potentially, family members.

  • In some cases, mutations can indicate that a newer approach, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy, may work better for you.
  • Results of these tests may also help you to find a clinical trial that may be appropriate for your particular cancer.
  • And, genetic testing results could also show that your cancer has a mutation or marker that may prevent a certain therapy from being effective, sparing you from getting a treatment that won’t work well for you.

How can make sure you have had essential biomarker testing?

  • First, always speak up and ask questions. Remember, you have a voice in YOUR prostate cancer care.
  • Ask your doctor if you have had or will receive genetic testing, including germline and somatic testing, and how the results may impact your care and treatment plan.
  • Ask whether your family members should meet with a genetic counselor or undergo testing to help gauge their risk of developing prostate cancer.
  • And, finally, bring a friend or a loved one to your appointments to help you process and recall information.

To learn more about your prostate cancer and to access tools for self-advocacy, visit powerfulpatients.org/prostatecancer

Do Telephone-Only Visits Qualify As a Telemedicine Visit?

Do Telephone-Only Visits Qualify As a Telemedicine Visit? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For head and neck cancer patients, do telephone-only visits really qualify as a telemedicine visit? Watch as expert Dr. Samantha Tamfrom Henry Ford Health System explains care concerns that can be covered in telephone versus video visits – and patients who can benefit from the use of virtual visits. 

See More From The Head & Neck Cancer TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center

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Transcript:

Samantha Tam, MD, FRCSC, MPH: 

So from a… Telephone-only visits have a lot of drawbacks to them, I think even virtually assessing a patient with regards to how they’re doing generally, a general physical examination is very important. On top of that, we have a lot of sensitive conversations in patients that have head and neck cancer, so it’s important to also read things like non-verbal body language, so definitely the video component is extremely useful for providers that are caring for patients with head and neck cancer. However, in patients that might not have access to video visits, might not have the technology, I think that the number one priority in our minds is that this patient gets the best care that they are able to get, and whether that this means a telephone-only type of a visit is possible for these patients, we adjust our…I guess we adjust our requirements, we adjust our ability to deliver care based on that, so that might mean touching base with the patient on the phone at first in order to understand exactly what they’re going through, talk them through the next steps so that they know what to accept in order to make their care more streamlined later on. I don’t think that telephone visits will completely replace either virtual visits or in-person visits, but I think that, again, they are a tool, and they’re a tool that especially patients that might be more disadvantaged, such as not having access to good Internet might not have access to the technology required for a virtual visit, those patients need to be considered when we consider utilizing telephone-only care. 

Is Telemedicine a Mainstay for Head and Neck Cancer Patients?

Is Telemedicine a Mainstay for Head and Neck Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Will head and neck cancer care continue with telemedicine in the future? Watch as expert Dr. Samantha Tam from Henry Ford Health System shares her perspective on her expectations for the use of telemedicine versus in-person visits with head and neck cancer patients.

See More From The Head & Neck Cancer TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center

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Transcript:

Samantha Tam, MD, FRCSC, MPH: 

So while COVID-19 has forced us into utilizing telemedicine in context that we might not nearly have used them in the past, I think that telemedicine is here to stay, though perhaps not as wide spreading universal as it has been at the beginning of the pandemic. Telemedicine to me, seems to be a very good adjunct to our in-person visits, I think seeing patients and evaluating them in-person is essential in head and neck cancer throughout the treatment course. That being said, I think that telemedicine really adds a value into patient’s care, there are several ways that we have used this at Henry Ford in order to enhance access to our services, one is with patient intake, when we have some information, we can certainly start to…we can meet with you, get a good clinical history and understand exactly what is going on, and therefore expedite investigations that are required, and then condense our visits to just one in-person visit versus multiple in-person visits. Another way that I have used this is checking in with patients while they’re in the middle of treatment, sometimes patients are getting daily radiation, not close to my office, but I like to check on them to make sure from a symptom standpoint that they’re tolerating their treatment well. 

And certainly coming down for a visit would be impossible, so checking in with them virtually has been a good way to monitor treatment side effects and to ensure everything is going smoothly from that standpoint. With surveillance, there have been also options that way to check in with patients that are more on the survivorship end of things to see how things are going that way though, I often do like to see patients in follow up in-person just so that we can also complete an endoscopic examination as clinically indicated.