Moffitt Cancer Center's virtual visits up 5,000% in response to COVID-19

With federal and state governments loosening restrictions on telemedicine due to the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals such as Tampa, Fla.-based Moffitt Cancer Center have reported steep increases in virtual visits with patients. 

Moffitt, which implemented a telemedicine pilot program about two years ago, is now completing nearly 300 virtual visits with patients per day, Philippe Spiess, MD, assistant chief of surgical services at the cancer center, told Becker's Hospital Review. Dr. Spiess leads Moffitt's telemedicine efforts alongside Cristina Naso, who serves as virtual health director at the center. 

Moffitt's teleoncology model is not patient on demand; most of the virtual visits it hosts are scheduled as opposed to a virtual type of walk-in visit. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moffitt was already increasing its telemedicine visits. In the last six months, the cancer center expanded its number of providers using telemedicine to about 30 physicians, who were able to complete 50 visits per month, according to Dr. Spiess. 

When Moffitt's virtual health team began tracking COVID-19's impact in China and Italy earlier this year, it re-examined its telemedicine program and how the cancer center would be delivering care during the outbreak, Dr. Spiess said. On March 25, Moffitt transitioned its virtual visit program to Zoom's video conferencing platform, which the organization had already implemented for internal staff communication. Switching to Zoom for telemedicine visits allowed Moffitt to adopt a more standard and consistent care delivery method, from physicians conducting visits to patients being able to easily connect for appointments. 

"As a provider, I was very relieved when we did that because I think it made [virtual visits] much more appealing for many folks, especially those who had not used our previous telemedicine platform to adopt a single platform," Dr. Spiess said. 

As its telemedicine program continues to grow, Moffitt plans to expand access to more patients in the coming weeks. The center is focused on making virtual visits available for new patients and those seeking out second opinions. While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed care delivery, Dr. Spiess said he predicts it will have a lasting effect on telemedicine.  

"After all this is all said and done, whether it be three months, six months, one year, telemedicine is here to stay," he said. "... I think a lot of the work and a lot of the effort that is being put into this will be very meaningful for our patients and providers in the future. Sometimes you're forced to do things, but I think at the end of the day this is probably going to be a very beneficial thing for our cancer center and our patients in the future." 

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