Steps to Improve Patient Access to Online Services

The telehealth market is expected to experience an 80% year on year growth in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, with telehealth services easing the burden on traditional healthcare systems by urging patients with mild or moderate ailments to use web-based applications for treatment or management. Telemedicine also takes the lead in the cancer care strategy during the coronavirus outbreak and will continue to play a role in the future to support symptom management, lifestyle changes, and medication protocols. Therefore, access to online services to support patients with cancer is crucial to coordinate care from availing of financial aid and medical services to legal and psychological support. Empowering the patient to take control of their overall care using internet-based technologies can improve care coordination with medical and legal professionals and may also reduce the burden on the health care system.

Learn to Navigate the Web

Of vital importance to accessing online services is knowing how to use the internet to search for resources that you may need. In addition to the basics of having an email that you use to communicate, you must familiarize yourself with the main features of browsers such as clearing cache, bookmarking, and viewing history as well as the practicality of tabbed browsing.

Another important aspect of being internet savvy is to learn to use search engines such as Google, Bing, or Duck Duck Go effectively that will enable you to find answers to queries on all types of subjects. Know that you can also filter and refine your search to yield results that are suitable to your queries. Hence, if you are looking for lawyers that can help you find financial assistance for your cancer treatment, it will save you time since most professional websites are optimized for search engines nowadays. Professional sites do this by providing relevant and authoritative content that are useful to website visitors ranking them high whenever a query is typed in the search engine and results are displayed. Keywords that are often used by surfers are also incorporated in the text and articles of sites, making these portals easy to find by search engines.

Retrieve Information and Benefit From Online Access

Now that you are confident about using internet technology, there are many things that you can do online to assist in your cancer care management. One of the constraints in cancer care is health insurance. Access to government portals and organization websites such as the Social Security Administration (SSA) for disability insurance benefits or the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC) which offers a data base of financial resources can already give you leads on where to get financial aid.

Although many people are benefiting from treatment outside of hospitals due to mounting medical costs, declining number of doctors, and an older cohort of patients who are living longer, outpatient care can lead to a decrease in support delivered by health care staff. The good news is internet-based tech including patient portals, websites, and apps can tip the scale to balance the perceived support deficiency.

The ability to access health records, choose health providers and place of treatment, book and cancel appointments online, find psychological support, and order prescription refills virtually are major steps in cancer care management. Telephony is also another feature of the internet offering free phone calls if a patient needs to talk to a healthcare provider or specialist urgently. Other forms of communication with doctors and hospitals include forums such as message boards and instant messaging. Mobile applications to track and fight cancer also make it easy for patients to sign up for trials and access research results and other information on the go.

Improved access to online services by learning to navigate the web efficiently and effectively can open up an entire virtual world to a person with cancer. It also empowers a patient by managing the coordination of their condition with different actors such as oncologists, lawyers, therapists, and psychologists.

A Complete Breakdown of Telemedicine

Interview with Joe Kvedar, MD, President, American Telemedicine Association (ATA) Professor of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School Physician Scientist, Author. As the only organization completely focused on advancing telehealth, the ATA is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to safe, affordable, and appropriate care when and where they need it, enabling the system to do more good for more people.

Honora Miller:

Dr. Kvedar, thank you for joining us.

Dr. Kvedar:

I’m delighted to be with you.

Honora Miller:

Can you tell us what telemedicine is?

Dr. Kvedar:

Well, it’s not a new concept, but since the late 1960s, people have been talking and working towards this idea that care doesn’t necessarily have to be two people in the same room at the same time — that we can use technology to connect people. Like we’re doing now with this video interview, that’s the most common type of telehealth visit, but we can also connect with patients via telephone calls.

There are various remote monitoring devices that are able to monitor an individual’s vital signs or other health measures in their homes.

Finally, in the same way we exchange emails and text messages, we can do that securely with patients, what we call e-visits, which can be very helpful, as well. So there are a variety of forms, but it’s really all about care where the patient is, when the patient needs it, and not having an individual travel to visit a doctor in person.

Honora Miller:

Can you break down the differences between the terms telehealth, virtual visits, e-visits, and virtual health?

Dr. Kvedar:

I’ll go back to the beginning when there were visionary clinicians who believed medicine could be delivered this way and were doing this kind of work. They called it telemedicine. A few years into that journey, there were a number of clinicians who felt that the same technologies could be used in other ways, including education, and so they started using the term telehealth to make it broader and more inclusive. To this day, telehealth the term that everyone is mostly comfortable with.

A few years ago, some people started to say that we needed to be able distinguish between real-time and asynchronous interactions, the same way that we have video or phone calls and emails, and that we also needed to distinguish between direct-to-patient interactions and interactions between clinicians

If it is an interaction between patient and doctor, it’s a virtual visit; if it’s between clinicians, it’s a virtual consult. For example, if a physician is caring for a stroke patient in another hospital, we call that a virtual consult. An e-visit is considered an asynchronous interaction. For instance, I’m a dermatologist, so if my patient takes a picture of a rash or skin disorder, and sends it to me via a secure portal, I could respond with a message back to the patient. That would be an e-visit.

Likewise, if the primary care doctor caring for a patient decided that she wanted a picture of something looked at and sent it to me electronically, then we call that an e-consult.

Telehealth generally encompasses four areas: virtual visits, virtual consults, e-visits and e-consults. Digital Health has become a term of art because that includes everything from robotic process automation, to artificial intelligence, and so on.

Honora Miller:

What is telemedicine remote monitoring?

Dr. Kvedar:

Well, remote monitoring is best suited for certain conditions, mostly chronic illness — conditions like congestive heart failure or high blood pressure or diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, when it’s helpful to have more data from the patient about their condition.

For example, if you were starting out on blood pressure medication, we could give you a blood pressure cuff to take home, so that you could take your blood pressure for a week. The cuff, connected by Bluetooth, would automatically share your BP readings with your healthcare provider.

That would be an example of home-monitoring. For people with heart failure, we might give them a wireless blood pressure cuff, weight scale and a device to measure oxygen levels in the blood, so that we can remotely monitor their vital signs.

There are a variety of opportunities to monitor all types of health measures using wearable devices like an Apple Watch, and sensors, that can remotely monitor things like an EKG, sleep patterns, daily activity and other functions.

Honora Miller:

Is the monitoring done in real-time? Or do patients supply the data as it becomes available by entering it into a portal?

Dr. Kvedar:

A lot of remote monitor is done in an asynchronous way. For example, you might step on a scale every morning, take your blood pressure and heart rate, and that personal health data is securely transmitted to your healthcare provider and winds up in your electronic health record. Then a nurse or other provider could look at your data and put in a call to you if something was not quite right, and you’d have a dialogue. Again, it could be a video call or an audio call, but you’d have a dialogue with your provider about what was going on — maybe your diet was off, or maybe you need to increase your medicine dose, but that’s typically how it’s done. It’s not usually done with real-time readings.

Honora Miller:

Can you speak to what telemedicine care looks like in the era of COVID-19?

Dr. Kvedar:

I’ll start with statistics from my own large delivery system in Boston to give you a flavor, and by the way, our numbers are not unique. February of 2020, across two academic hospitals, we did about 1600 virtual encounters. In March, we did 89,000 and in April we did 242,000. We are not unique because I’ve been talking to my colleagues around the country and everyone’s having that kind of accelerated demand for telehealth services, what we would call hockey stick growth, partly because, to help stop the spread of the virus, people need to stay at home, yet we still have to take care of our patients. The technology that you and I are using for this interview is common now, whether it be Zoom or Skype or FaceTime.

People are, for the most part, comfortable with video calls, and likewise, patients have really taken to it. Patients generally have been very, very positive. Doctors are warming to it. Many doctors are saying Gosh, there’s so many things I can do this way that I hadn’t thought about, and I’m going to continue to practice this way. So telehealth services have grown a like wildfire. Before the pandemic, mental health was the biggest user and for sure now mental health providers are still the biggest users of telehealth. In mental health care, providers are talking to the patient, so it’s very easy to make that transition. And then we mentioned chronic illness before, but it turns out that the screening questions used to decide if someone needs a COVID test can easily be asked via telehealth.

if someone is sick at home with only mild symptoms, that individual can be monitored quite well using this kind of virtual care tool set because it’s all about asking questions.

Honora Miller:

So those are the main things that we’re seeing — the use of telehealth for follow-up visits for all kinds of conditions and health concerns, mental health, as well as respiratory symptom questions to determine if individuals need additional testing for coronavirus.

I’m wondering if you can speak to whether or not health insurance coverage has kept up with the pace of change in this arena?

Dr. Kvedar:

So great question and any time you ask about insurance coverage, it is always a long answer with a lot of caveats. I’ll start with Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the biggest payer in the country for the elderly and disabled, and they said very early on they would pay for telehealth at the same level they would pay us for seeing you in the office, so that was a big boom. They’ve since refined that to pay for telephone calls at that rate, as well. That, by the way, is really a nod to addressing disparities because there are people who can’t afford a smartphone or have broadband and we want to make sure that we get to them.

I credit the Medicare folks for seeing that. Medicare is doing very well. Medicaid is state-by-state. Reimbursement will depend upon where you live. But most states, most governors, during this State of Emergency, said that they should pay and most private payers are paying for telehealth as well, so it’s pretty rosy right now, in terms of reimbursement.

One of the things that we’re doing at the ATA is trying to make sure that enough of that reimbursement culture sticks when we move out of this health crisis so that people can continue to enjoy the benefits of this type of care delivery.

Honora Miller:

Do you think that there will be legislation required in order to have that level of coverage continue or is there going to be another mechanism to advocate for that to be the case?

Dr. Kvedar:

Again, great question. I would say that if we look at history as a guide, when Medicare decides to pay for something, private payers typically follow, and there was no need for legislation because it was something that just rippled through the medical economy. So that’s what we’re hoping will happen again. In every state Medicaid is a little bit different. Patients have found that they can get care and there’s this what I call the magic of access, quality and convenience. And when you get that kind of care delivery, everyone feels great about it.

Patients have experienced that and doctors have experienced that. I would just suggest that you listeners and readers talk to their company’s human resources person, and tell them how much they’ve enjoyed their telehealth benefit; if you are insured by the government, take the time to write your senator or representative, and tell them that you don’t want to go back to in-person only care. I think we will have to advocate some but there’s such an overwhelming positive response that I’m quite optimistic that it will stick.

Honora Miller:

Having recently experienced four or five different medical professionals interacting with me through telemedicine, I’ve noticed that there’s a different cadence to each of the visits depending on the person’s communication style and their comfort level with the medium.

How patients can prepare themselves in order to get the best possible experience out of telemedicine?

Dr. Kvedar:

Sure, but before I get to that, I would just quickly say that we’re working on doctors, too, on what we’re calling “website manner.” It used to be something that we sort of said with a chuckle, but we’re very serious about it now. And it’s things like looking directly at the camera, and dressing up so that your patient takes you seriously.

But back to your question about how patients can prepare for a telehealth visit. I’d suggest everyone think about being more conscious of the information that your doctor needs to help you, either in making a diagnosis or by helping you with a care plan. For example, when we were able to have office visits back in the day — that was only several weeks ago — the doctor was asking questions, they listened to your lungs, your heart, even indicators such as your speech pattern or if you look your doctor in the eye. They were collecting information constantly during that office visit. So, let’s say, you’re a patient with diabetes. You should make sure you have your blood sugar readings handy.

Let’s say you’ve been following your blood pressure, make sure you have your blood pressure readings handy.

For me, as a dermatologist, it’s so important that we have good images of whatever it is on your skin that you need looked at. So it’s really thinking through what information your provider needs, and sometimes a doctor will help you. In our case, in advance of a telehealth interaction, we send patients information about how to take good quality pictures of their skin condition. So we’re learning, too.

Also, make sure you have your questions ready in advance, which is always good advice, both for an in-person or virtual visit, so that you get all your questions answered.

Make sure you have all the information about your condition that you can gather and make sure you have your questions prepared.

Honora Miller:

In relation to lab tests that a patient may need to get, how does that work in the telemedicine context?

Dr. Kvedar:

Well, that’s a wonderful question. Notwithstanding home pregnancy tests and the like, there are a number of companies making great strides towards taking a drop or two of blood and having a test done in the home, so we can look forward to that in the future.

In the meantime, the answer is, you need to go to a lab, hospital or clinic for testing, which is in most cases what happens currently. Things like genetic tests can be done with saliva, so some samples can be packaged from the home and shipped to a lab to be evaluated.

So it depends on the test, but unfortunately, for a lot of these tests, we still have to send people to a lab to get a blood specimen drawn or to leave a urine or stool specimen.

Honora Miller:

How can patients best identify whether their doctors provide a telemedicine option?

Dr. Kvedar:

Well, these days, I think most doctors are being very proactive, because we have this dilemma, where we want to take care of you but we’re discouraging you from coming to healthcare facilities because of the risk of contracting the virus.

If your doctor hasn’t reached out to you and you feel like you need a consultation or some care, reach out to your doctor and ask them what telehealth platform they’re using.

The government also said in the middle of March, when they relaxed the reimbursement rules, that providers could use any technology right now that we wanted during this crisis, including FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom et cetera.

I’ve been telling patients, if you’re comfortable, there’s no harm in asking your doctor’s office if they will talk with you via FaceTime or another platform. I would say the first step is to ask your provider. Most people can also get access to basic telehealth services through large pharmacy chains. If you happen to have a CVS app on your phone or a Walgreens app, you can get a telehealth visit that way as well.

Most health plans, even before this health crisis, would offer an option for you to get a telehealth visit. I hope your doctor is responsive and he/she should be, but in the event that your provider isn’t offering telehealth visits, other options exist.

Honora Miller:

Can you speak to what tools a patient will need to adequately engage with patient portals?

Dr. Kvedar:

Patient portals have been around for a long time. However, I would give us a bit of a black eye on making them user-friendly. I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of that. And again, this is a patient empowerment conversation, and I don’t know that we’ve done a very good job of empowering people to interact with us through those tools.

That said, all of a sudden now patient portals have become a primary way you’re interacting with your healthcare providers, so we’re upping our game. It’s too bad it takes a crisis but there it is, and I think we’ll get much, much better.

I often say, every service you consume other than healthcare has a digital front end that has a way of interacting with software to get things done easily. For example, you take a picture of your check and deposit in your bank account with just a few taps on your smartphone. There’s millions of examples now, and health care is just getting going in that regard.

The patient portal story is really mostly about security, that is to say, it’s a very secure electronic environment for you to interact with your healthcare provider. The basic things that you can do there, apart from doing a virtual visit, is to do billing information, usually there’s a way to get a list of your medications, ask for prescription refills, schedule appointments, get letters for things like school physicals, and that the like. Nowadays, those things can be handled electronically.

There’s a little bit of, I would say, activation energy for some people, because signing up can be complicated.

It is so secure you are sometimes required to submit a letter or do something extra than you would to sign up for a normal website, all in good intent. I would urge people to put up with whatever barrier hits you in the beginning. Once you get involved with a patient portal, and we’re working very hard now to make it a really a good experience for you, patients will be able to not only interact with us as providers, but you will be able to access all kinds of information and services offered by your healthcare system, access lots of information from your record and so forth.

Honora Miller:

As a cancer patient, and for others living with chronic conditions, how might telemedicine impact the future of survivorship?

Dr. Kvedar:

It’s a great question. One aspect of survivorship is things like living wills which, if it isn’t done electronically, we will have to move in that direction, to enable that. There is a lot of interest in interactivity with palliative care and hospice around how to better care for patients, particularly around medication management. Patients can be afraid of opiates and sometimes they’re in terrible pain, so we need to get this right. So those are a couple of examples.

Honora Miller:

Is a potential for telemedicine to be used in lieu of in-person visits to such an extent that the medical provider doesn’t get to see the patient enough to pick up on subtleties that are crucial? Can you share any insights about this concern?

Dr. Kvedar:

I think that’s wonderful insight and we are definitely grappling with that for sure, especially now that telehealth use has surged. Before this pandemic hit, we had only one channel healthcare delivery to come to the hospital or doctor’s office. Now of course the answer is, let’s do a telehealth visit.

But the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I trust clinicians to have good instincts about that.

For instance, patients that we’re treating for a chronic illness, maybe we do every other visit in the office so that we can have that face time and actual interactivity. There’s something about in-person interactions with patients that’s very special. I take care of patients with acne, for example, and arguably that can be done online. But I would say we’ll probably end up doing every other visit in the office, because you want to get to know the patient, their family, etcetera. It’s just that right now where we don’t really have a choice.

Honora Miller:

Can you speak to privacy concerns around telemedicine?

Dr. Kvedar:

Forty-eight states have temporarily loosened their licensure restrictions in response to the pandemic. As, a patient, that may or may not hit your radar, depending upon where you live. Here in Eastern Massachusetts, I have a medical license in Massachusetts, but regularly take care of patients who live in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, because they often had come in for office visits. So now if we’re doing follow-up care, there’s a mechanism where I can still take care of them, even though I don’t have a medical license in those two other states.

Waiving restrictions on state licensure is important to point out because it’s really enabling us to again deliver better care to more people. The question then becomes, after this crisis is over, will we have to go back to the very old-fashioned, state-by-state geographic border-based care delivery model? This is something that the ATA is working on, as well as the need to maintain patient privacy, especially for providers using telehealth for the first time, who may not be familiar with these new procedures.

I would also point out that the biggest part of health data security is how we record that visit in the medical record, and that hasn’t changed. We do that in a very secure way. It’s something we take very seriously. And I don’t mean to say that you’d never get hacked. It’s part of reality that anyone can get hacked any time, but I don’t believe it’s something that should get in the way of delivering care.

Honora Miller:

Thank you, these are interesting times and we are moving at an amazing speed, and just the incredible growth that you described it really is a testament to how there can be interesting unintended consequences of a pandemic. Thank you very much for joining us and for you sharing your expertise.

Dr. Kvedar:

It’s been a real honor and pleasure.

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Visit

“Well, we need to check your titer,” the doctor explained as he went over my lab results via a recent Zoom call. “Titer?” I thought. I know I’ve heard that term before, but I wasn’t really sure what it meant. The doctor reappeared the word a few more times, exacerbating my confusion. I was too embarrassed to ask what he meant; he was talking quickly. When he eventually said, “The titer is the strength of the antibodies in your blood,” I finally understood and felt more at ease.

As we face this pandemic, chronic and/or rare disease patients like myself are facing an extension of the “new normal” that everyone is experiencing firsthand. Our doctor’s appointments are critical times when we’re able to explain how we’re feeling, how our medication may or may not be working, and what the next steps are. But our visits become different when our face to face sessions turn virtual. I believe we become more vulnerable, as we invite the doctors into our home lives.

While healthcare has certainly come a long way and telemedicine has been on the horizon, virtual visits are now the norm. We have been placed, both as patient and healthcare professionals, in a position that allows us to take advantage of the technology we have and still provide and receive great care. In my opinion, these visits should not be considered a hassle, but rather an encounter that continues to focus on patient education as we face unprecedented times.

A part of patient education is health literacy. Health literacy can be defined in many ways, but the short, paraphrased version is that health literacy is the ability of patients to understand health information (verbal, visual, etc.) in order to make the best decisions about their health. This includes understanding the messages that are being conveyed to them by health professionals, including symptoms to look for and how to take medication. The case remains the same whether visits are in-person or virtual, perhaps with greater emphasis on the latter, in my opinion.

Below, I will highlight things that patients can do to make the most of their health appointment, with a focus on health literacy.

Tips for Patients

  1. Discuss any information you have questions about during your appointment, especially if it has jargon you don’t understand
  2. If a doctor speaks too quickly, tell them to slow down or repeat what they said
  3. Take notes during your appointment if having something visual helps you remember
  4. If your doctor mentions a word you’ve never heard of, ask them to define it
  5. Share your understanding of how a certain medication or treatment is helping you and/or if you think something could work better
  6. If you’re unsure of how to take a medication, show the label to your doctor to have them explain
  7. If you are provided with test results, ask your doctor to review them carefully with clear language

Telemedicine in Cancer Care

This podcast was originally published by podcasts on October 23, 2018, here.

Telemedicine in Cancer Care, with Ana María López, MD, MPH, FACP, S. Joseph Sirintrapun, MD, FASCP, FCAP, Joseph A. Greer, PhD, and Karen E. Edison, MD

While most people may think of visiting a doctor to receive medical care, today, technology such as computers and smartphones can connect doctors and patients who are separated physically. This is known as “telemedicine.”

In today’s podcast, Dr. Ana María López, Dr. Joseph Sirintrapun, Dr. Joseph Greer, and Dr. Karen Edison will discuss their article from the 2018 ASCO Educational Book, “Telemedicine in Cancer Care,” including specific methods used in telemedicine, and the ways it helps bring high-quality medical care to people who might not otherwise be able to access this care.



ASCO: You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors who care for people with cancer.

The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement. Cancer research discussed in this podcast is ongoing, so the data described here may change as research progresses.

While most people may think of visiting a doctor to receive medical care, today, technology such as computers and smartphones can connect doctors and patients who are separated physically. This is known as “telemedicine.”

In today’s podcast, Dr. Ana María López, Dr. Joseph Sirintrapun, Dr. Joseph Greer, and Dr. Karen Edison will discuss their article from the 2018 ASCO Educational Book, “Telemedicine in Cancer Care,” including specific methods used in telemedicine, and the ways it helps bring high-quality medical care to people who might not otherwise be able to access this care.

Dr. Lopez is the Vice Chair of Medical Oncology and Chief of Cancer Services at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Sirintrapun is a pathologist and the Director of Pathology Informatics at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Greer is the Clinical Director of Psychology and a research scientist in the Center for Psychiatric Oncology & Behavioral Sciences at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Dr. Karen Edison is the Philip C. Anderson Professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Missouri Health System, the Medical Director of the Missouri Telehealth Network, and the Director of the Center for Health Policy at the University of Missouri.

Published annually, the Educational Book is a collection of articles written by ASCO Annual Meeting speakers and oncology experts. Each volume highlights the most compelling research and developments across the multidisciplinary fields of oncology.

ASCO would like to thank Dr. Lopez, Dr. Sirintrapun, Dr. Greer, and Dr. Edison for discussing this topic.

Dr. Lopez: Hello, welcome. My name is Dr. Ana María López. I’m a medical oncologist at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University. Today we have a great panel on telemedicine and cancer care. I’m joined by Dr. Joseph Sirintrapun from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Joseph Greer of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Karen Edison from the University of Missouri Health System. In this podcast, we will be sharing some key points from our 2018 ASCO Educational Book article, “Telemedicine in Cancer Care.”

I’d like to start by giving a quick overview of telemedicine. Telemedicine uses telecommunication technology, like smartphones and computers, to provide clinical care, to really facilitate access to clinical care. These virtual visits can be in real-time, that is, almost like the face-to-face visits, and the patient and the physician use a video connection, which could be an app. But it could also be done by utilizing what’s called Store-and-Forward. So when medical reports are transmitted, when images, like radiographs, or sound recordings, which might be from an echo, or a stethoscope, could be transmitted, and these are interpreted at an asynchronous time from the clinical visit.

A combination of these approaches can often be used. And although these have been developed to care for patients at a distance, you can image that this can be very helpful in urban settings as well. Dr. Edison, can you tell us a little more about the history of telemedicine and how it might benefit patients with cancer?

Dr. Edison: Of course, Dr. Lopez. Telemedicine was initially created to assist with the care of astronauts while they were in space. But since devices like smartphones and computers with video capabilities have become so widespread and popular, doctors are now finding that they can use telemedicine to benefit patients who may not be able to otherwise make an in-person visit. Teleoncology, which is the cancer-specific form of telemedicine, was first used to help treat patients with cancer who live in rural areas. Teleoncology became a useful way for them to get care from their cancer team.

Dr. Lopez: Dr. Edison, do you think teleoncology as effective as seeing a cancer doctor in person?

Dr. Edison: Yes, and this has actually been studied. Telemedicine is as effective as in-person care, and both patients and doctors are highly satisfied using telemedicine. It also saves costs.

Dr. Lopez: What do you think these different types of telemedicine applications—you see these mHealth apps and wearables—can they help people with cancer?

Dr. Edison: Using telemedicine technologies like remote monitoring of cancer patients is a way to limit the time that patients with cancer spend in the doctor’s office or the hospital so that they can maximize their time closer to home enjoying their lives. With telemedicine a patient can follow up with me on wound care and talk about managing their symptoms without making a trip to the office. I can use telemedicine technologies to monitor my patients’ vital signs, like temperature and heart rate. There are also iPad-based group therapy sessions for young adults with cancer, and even a smartphone attachment that can use digital images to assess the cervix after an abnormal screening.

Dr. Lopez, you’ve done a lot research into using teleoncology for breast cancer care, can you tell us a little about your patients’ experiences using these methods?

Dr. Lopez: Sure. You know, teleoncology for breast cancer care, and for different aspects of cancer care, as you were mentioning, can really encompass the full spectrum of care from prevention, survivorship, to palliation.

There are data for the efficacy, for example, of telegenetics to assess hereditary cancer risk. And with the limited access for cancer geneticists in the country, this is really of great value to communities. There are approaches where telemedical services could be “bundled.” This could facilitate entry into breast cancer care by coordinating timely scheduling, sometimes even same-day. Telemammography, telepathology for the breast biopsy, and teleoncology consultation to discuss the plan of care, all really to facilitate the patient’s care.

At the end-of-life, the opportunity for tele-hospice can facilitate connection to care, timely assessment and intervention, and ease symptom management. A unique application for telemedicine that was pioneered at our institution in Arizona is for virtual rounds, to engage the patient, families, and caregivers in the transitions of cancer care that are critical for patient outcomes. Although most telemedicine approaches serve to bring the patient to the medical team, the concept of virtual rounds serves to bring the family and caregivers to the medical experience and to the discussions that can support care transitions. So as we consider how to care for patients, and to better care for cancer patients, we can also think if there is a technological approach that could make care easier. That might just be a telemedicine solution!

As an example, Dr. Sirintrapun at Memorial Sloan Kettering has used telemedicine to address an important approach in telepathology. Dr. Sirintrapun, can you tell us a little more about this?

Dr. Sirintrapun: Of course, Dr. Lopez. Pathology is the examination of tissue, the mainstay being under a microscope. As a pathologist, I diagnose cancer or determine if the tissue is free of disease. Pathology is constrained historically because of the requirement for the physical presence of someone who is skilled at microscopic examination. There are scenarios where there cannot be enough of these people available to render an accurate microscopic assessment. This absence is particularly true outside the U.S. where there is an ever-expanding shortage of pathologists and where patients are unable to receive a definitive pathologic diagnosis.

I described a specific situation at my institution where there were not enough skilled people at our satellite locations evaluating fine needle aspirations and biopsies for adequacy. This unavailability might have resulted in patients sometimes having to undergo multiple subsequent biopsy procedures or invasive procedures.

Dr. Lopez: Oh, how interesting, that’s certainly not the experience we want our patients to have. How has you worked to change this?

Dr. Sirintrapun: In a nutshell, because telemedicine or telepathology can cut out the need for physical transport and manual handling of glass slides and patient information, I created a telepathology framework to overcome the need for physical presence of someone skilled at microscopic evaluation. We’ve been able to use remotely operated robotic microscopes and microscopes streaming high-definition video to evaluate tissues at other locations and communicate our findings.

Dr. Lopez: That’s great! Thank you, Dr. Sirintrapun.

Dr. Greer, what are some other ways that telemedicine can help patients with cancer?

Dr. Greer: Yes, the change from using paper medical records to electronic health records is a big development. The goal is to be able to virtually link a patient’s medical record with mHealth tools in their home. For example, this could include a camera equipped with secure software to assess skin changes and rashes associated with chemotherapy or radiation, or computer-based interactive tools to assess symptoms related to cancer care in real time.

Also, many patients in rural areas are not able to enroll in clinical trials. Telemedicine may be used to facilitate access to cancer clinical trials by virtual eligibility assessment, consent, and symptom assessment and management. It evens out the access to the benefits of clinical trials between urban and rural patients.

Dr. Lopez: And what about big data? That’s a term that we hear a lot about in the news.

Dr. Greer: Yes, big data is one of those hot terms. Essentially, it means that we can use electronic health records, without any patient-identifying information, to amass a lot of medical information on a lot of people. Then, we can use computer algorithms to find patterns across the population to more effectively diagnose and treat cancer.

Dr. Lopez: Thank you, Dr. Greer. And thank you Dr. Edison and Dr. Sirintrapun. Technology is a tool that may free the doctors to focus on patient care and allow patients to more easily communicate with their medical team. We may see improved coordination of cancer care, lower costs, time savings, early disease detection, and increased access to care, education, and personalized care through telemedicine and teleoncology.

We appreciate your time and sharing your wisdom with us, and we appreciate the time of all the listeners, and look forward to hearing of your experiences as you explore these opportunities. Thank you. I hope you’ve enjoyed our podcast. To learn more, please view our article online at Thank you.

ASCO: Thank you Dr. Lopez, Dr. Sirintrapun, Dr. Greer, and Dr. Edison. Please visit to read the full article. And if this podcast was useful, please take a minute to subscribe, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.

Cancer.Net is supported by ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation, which funds breakthrough research for every type of cancer, helping patients everywhere. To help fund Cancer.Net and programs like it, donate at

What is Telehealth? How Can It Benefit Patients?

According to the Center for Connected Health Policy, telehealth can be defined as encompassing a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services. Telehealth is not a specific service, but a collection of means to enhance care and education. For example, telehealth could be as simple as two healthcare professionals discussing a case over the phone or as sophisticated as doing robotic surgery between facilities at different ends of the globe. Common examples that are being used today include teleradiology, in which test results are forwarded to another facility for a diagnosis, continuing education for healthcare professionals, and supplements to home/hospital visits, which is especially useful for elderly patients. Frequently used applications and services include video conferencing, email, smart phones, streaming media, and mobile apps. So, what does that all mean for patients? It means patients can more easily integrate their healthcare into their daily life, instead of infrequent doctor’s visits. Thus, giving them a more efficient way to manage their ongoing care. Telehealth shows great potential for advancing preventative medicine and the treatment of chronic conditions.

Patient Benefits

  • Lower travel costs and miss work income savings to patients who would otherwise need to commute to an urban location
  • Home monitoring programs can reduce high cost hospital visits
  •  Specialists “team up” with local healthcare providers to improve disease management and improved disease management reduces complications and hospitalizations
  • Less time is spent by the patient in waiting rooms
  • Some doctors charge less for a telehealth consultation than they would for an average in-person visit
  • Telehealth has also been shown to reduce the need for hospital re-admissions, which can be an inconvenience for patients and are a significant expense to healthcare facilities
  • Patients can be diagnosed and treated more quickly in distant locations
  • Hospitalized patients whose care is supervised by a specialist via telehealth have the advantage of staying in their home community where family and friends can easily visit. Studies have shown that recovery is faster when patients are close to home
  • In some specialties, particularly in mental health and ICU care, telemedicine delivers a superior product, with greater outcomes and patient satisfaction
  • Test results can be quickly sent to specialists for second opinions
  • School based telehealth allows school nurses and other healthcare providers to serve more students at more locations
  • Can bring previously unavailable levels of care to remote or rural areas of the country and the world
  • Through Telehealth consults, patients are often able to participate in clinical trials unavailable in many rural areas.
  • Empowers patients to take an active role in their health care
  • Increases their confidence to stay independent and at home


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