Telehealth’s Uncertain Future Spells Doom for Cancer Patients

Nov 3, 2020

Since the wave of the COVID-19 infection in the United States, telehealth regulations have relaxed. This has further projected telehealth and its benefits to patients and the general public. Patient convenience, safety, and involvement have been major selling points.

It might seem that another significant advantage of telehealth is the availability of specialists. Patients with special needs and chronic diseases, particularly cancer, enjoyed access to specialist virtual care.

Cancer Patients Benefit from Telehealth

Usually, cancer patients relapse and are constantly reassessing their needs. The pandemic resulted in a major lockdown. Consequently, many appointments were met with no-shows.  Traveling at such a time presented a lot of danger for immunocompromised and elderly patients. Cancer patients happen to fall into these categories. On the other hand, telehealth turned up as a blessing.

Healthtree, close to the beginning of the pandemic asked 1,100 patients about their use of virtual care. Around April, 60% said they’d use telehealth compared with 10% before the pandemic. One major factor recorded was the ability to access specialists across the country.

Besides, telehealth has bridged inequity gaps for races that are at high risk of certain cancers. For instance, Jenny Ahlstrom mentioned that African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, however, they often have worse outcomes.

Telehealth’s Uncertain Future

Will telehealth remain the way it is after the pandemic? Jenny Ahlstrom, the founder of Healthtree, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma some ten years ago, voiced out her fears. She expressed alarm on the possibility that the eased regulations because of the covid-19 pandemic might be back in full force.

Some hints on payments for virtual care and policy changes on telemedicine waivers have created uncertainty for providers and patients alike. For instance, some telehealth organizations in several states still operate and allow patients to access specialists virtually. However, some others have stopped offering such services.

Ahlstrom referred to this as “a total nightmare for patients.” She agreed that telemedicine could be restricted by certain modalities of treatment. On the other hand, an imposed blanket rule by policymakers wasn’t a welcome idea.

She further noted that her experience with myeloma had established the need to see a specialist if needed and available. She mentioned this stating the benefit of telehealth to other patients with chronic disease. Also, that policy changes that had facilitated access to virtual care should remain permanent.

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