Telehealth and Cancer Care: What You Need to Know
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In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the UW Carbone Cancer Center has shifted to seeing many patients via telehealth, a move aimed at ensuring proper physical distancing and the safety of both patients and clinical staff.
"This pandemic created a major disruption in our care delivery model," said Kim Brandt, RN, director of oncology services at UW Health. "It's also given us the opportunity to leverage our current telehealth capabilities to new areas with increased sophistication and coordination."
Telehealth is a broad term for remote healthcare that includes both clinical and non-clinical services. More specifically, telemedicine is a care delivery method using electronic communication technology that links a patient and a provider who are not at the same location for consultation and clinical diagnosis.
UW Health is no stranger to delivering health care remotely, and already offers services such as an electronic Intensive Care Unit, telestroke program, telehealth consults with specialists, and urgent care video visits. While the telehealth infrastructure was already in place, the challenge was ramping it up quickly to accommodate an influx of patients, including cancer patients, in a short amount of time.
"Telehealth has really been one of the things we've wanted to do more of for years, but COVID-19 has really catapulted it into our day-to-day workflow, said Ruth O'Regan, MD, a breast oncologist and Deputy Director of the UW Carbone Cancer Center. "It's an incredibly valuable service, and we're improving upon it every day."
Telehealth at UW Carbone involves a phone call or video chat with a cancer doctor. O'Regan and other oncologists are seeing both existing and new patients, and are available for second opinions. An in-person physical examination may be needed for some patients, but an oncologist will review the patient's chart to see if the visit can be done by video.
While this kind of appointment may feel unusual at first, it's not actually all that different from an in-person appointment at one of UW Carbone's clinics. Your oncologist will ask the same questions and you will receive the same level of care. You can have family members along for the appointment, which is not always possible at the moment with in-person visits due to visitor restrictions. A video visit also allows you to show your oncologist any changes to your body or visible side effects of treatment.
And, while your oncologist may not be able to hold your hand, they'll still be there to support you on every step of your cancer journey.
In the two months since COVID-19 began impacting Wisconsin, telehealth visits have proven to be a popular option among patients. At a time when many parts of the health care system have seen a significant drop in patients, UW Carbone is still seeing just about as many as before. "We really maintained the visits with our patients, but just changed the way we did them," O'Regan said, noting she's heard from several patients who were very happy to still receive care without having to leave home during the pandemic. UW Carbone is also taking care of some patients on clinical trials through video appointments, as well.
Even after the threat of COVID-19 passes, patients can expect some of these changes to stick around.
"Telehealth will completely reshape the way we deliver care," Brandt said. In-person assessments and appointments will be available as in the past, but expanded telehealth access will provide new and existing patients with several benefits.
For example, patients from northern Wisconsin could be seen by a cancer specialist at UW Carbone without the need for several hours in the car. That also means bypassing the need to take time off of work, or the need to find care for a child, a parent, or pets. It also means not having to drive through whatever treacherous conditions Wisconsin winters like to throw at us.
In addition, if you spend the winter in another state, or move away, you could still maintain a relationship with your oncologist and keep receiving care. "There's no reason why you couldn't do these types of visits for people anywhere in the country or the world," O'Regan said.
It's clear that telehealth and telemedicine are here to stay in oncology. If you'd like to try it out with a bit of help, the UW Carbone clinics at University Hospital and 1 S. Park Street in Madison now offer on-site video visits, where patients can use iPads to try out telehealth.
If you have further inquiries, or want to learn more, visit UW Health's telehealth services website, which includes answers to some frequently asked questions about video appointments.
Schedule an Oncology Telehealth Appointment
Here's a step-by-step guide:
- Talk to your doctor or oncologist about the possibility of a telehealth appointment. If you already have an in-person appointment scheduled which could be done over the phone or by video, you will receive a phone call about switching. If you are seeking a second opinion, learn more about UW Carbone's second opinions or call (608) 262-5223.
- A patient scheduling representative will help determine if your appointment can be done over the phone, or if a video visit would be best. Video visits require you to have a device with a camera, such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer. If you are scheduled for a video visit, you will be emailed a link that you can click when it is time for your appointment.
- Two days before your appointment, you will receive a reminder text message.
- You will receive a phone call 30 minutes prior to the start of your appointment from a medical assistant, who will walk you through some instructions and ask a few questions.
- For phone appointments, your oncologist will call you at the scheduled time. For video visits, you are asked to click the link that was emailed to you about 5 minutes before the start of your appointment. Either way, you will receive same level of care you expect from an in-person appointment at UW Carbone.
- Help is always available! Contact UW Health for assistance with telehealth.
Date Published: 06/01/2020