Telehealth Will Stay, but Not for Every Visit, Oncologists Report

Survivorship care and symptom management were the best uses of the technology in cancer care, according to survey results presented during this weekend's meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

A survey of reported this weekend during an annual meeting of oncologists found that almost all cancer specialists will keep using telehealth after the pandemic ends—but perhaps not for every type of visit.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which held a virtual meeting for the second year, shared results commissioned by its Telehealth Survey Task Force. Chris Manz, MD, MSHP, a medical oncologist with Dana Farber Cancer Institute, said 200 physicians completed the survey; respondents offered a good geographic distribution, representing 42 states.

Respondents were evenly split between practices of 20 clinicians or fewer and those with more than 20 clinicians. Of those taking the survey, 72% were medical oncologists.

Those who responded said using telehealth for symptom management and survivorship care has clear benefits, but 68% said it fell short for first-time visit, when doctors prefer to see the patient in person. Only 8% of the respondents said they did not plan to use telehealth at all after the pandemic.

Respondents were asked how they used telehealth for different types of visits as the pandemic hit a peak in January 2021. At that time, 51% said they were using the technology for at least half of survivorship visits in the past 30 days; by contrast, only 19% said they had used telehealth for at least half of their goals of care visits, when topics such as palliative care or advanced care planning may be discussed.

Manz said the appropriateness of using telehealth for a specific type of visit wasn’t the only consideration.

“Respondents reported that a number of patient, clinician, practice, and financial factors were barriers to using telehealth,” he said. Most frequently cited: patients’ access to technology, and the patients’ limited proficiency with telehealth technology. Both cited by about 80% of clinicians.

“Overall,” Manz said, “respondents in this small survey reported telehealth utilization, quality of telehealth, and preferences for post-pandemic telehealth use that often varied with the type of visit. However, clinicians highlighted a number of barriers that can inform policies around telehealth in the coming months and years.”