In a perfect world, location would never be a factor in a patient’s access to specialized cancer care. The reality is that in a state as vast as Texas, patients often travel long distances for consultations and treatment. Traveling for care can be exhausting for patients, and timely and costly for families and caregivers. That’s why telemedicine can be a viable and beneficial option, when appropriate, for the patient and physician.
In recent years we’ve seen extraordinary medical advancements and technological innovations in oncology and the healthcare industry. While telemedicine has existed in various forms for years, its use is becoming more common in oncology care. So, what is it, and how might you or a loved one benefit from it?
Telemedicine enables physicians to connect directly with patients who need highly specialized care, even if they live many miles away from the physicians’ offices and clinics. This can be done through a range of technologies, including video conferencing solutions that allow patients to see and speak directly with the physician, and that enable the medical team to share files, documents, and images on the screen.
With telemedicine, patients have access to extensive and diverse expertise with more treatment options, while saving time and expense by limiting travel to a distant treatment facility. Physicians within a healthcare network can access patient records and share files through encrypted, HIPPA-compliant technology to discuss test results, treatment options, and more.
Telemedicine does not completely eliminate the need for patients to travel for certain aspects of treatment and in-person doctor visits. But the robust communications technology effectively extends the reach of healthcare providers by allowing some consultations and follow-ups to take place remotely. This is vitally important in many areas of Texas, where access to specialty healthcare is limited or even non-existent.
For example, if a patient in Houston, Austin, or El Paso, has been identified as a potential candidate for highly precise proton therapy, the team at Texas Center for Proton Therapy in Irving, Texas, can use telemedicine to conduct a preliminary consultation with the patient to determine if the treatment is appropriate for them. The patient may only have to travel for treatment because consultations and some follow-ups may be conducted via telemedicine. The same is true of treatment for patients of Texas Oncology’s Austin Brain Tumor Center, helping make world renowned brain cancer expertise available to patients regardless of where they live.
The patient visits their local physician’s office for the appointment, where the appropriate specialist is added remotely via telemedicine technology. Specialties available also include blood and marrow transplant, CAR-T therapy, pediatric hematology or oncology, and advance care planning.
Within our Texas Oncology network, telemedicine makes it possible for patients to connect with more than 420 physicians by allowing some consultations and follow-up to take place remotely. Consultations can include voice, videoconferencing, sharing and reviewing scans and images, coordination of local supportive care, symptom management – or any combination of those services as clinical circumstances require.
Telemedicine is making it possible to reach more patients and to deliver care more efficiently and conveniently, regardless of the location of the patient or physician. The future of cancer care is exciting, and I’m proud to work for a network that embraces telemedicine that is effective for patients and doesn’t compromise quality or confidentiality – even when a patient is hundreds of miles away.
By Benjamin West, M.D.