Why MD Anderson's telehealth strategy stands out

More cancer centers are turning to telehealth to expand their reach, with promising results for patients.

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred hospitals and health systems nationwide to accelerate the adoption of telehealth, as the technology allowed organizations to provide safe and effective treatment without overrunning facilities with in-person appointments. A national study including 36 million working-age individuals with private insurance claims data showed that telemedicine encounters increased 766% in the first 3 months of the pandemic, from 0.3% of all interactions in March to June 2019, to 23.6% of all interactions in the same period.

The pandemic also put a spotlight on the "appetite" patients had for virtual care, Neema Navai, MD, associate professor of urology and co-leader of virtual care platform and strategy, told Becker's

In cancer centers, telehealth visits allow physicians to improve access for patients, especially in rural areas. A Tampa-based Moffitt Cancer Center 2023 study found telehealth consistently outperformed in-person visits for access to care. The study analyzed Press Ganey survey responses from 5,959 telehealth visits between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. It found 75.8% of participants said their access to care was highly satisfying and telehealth visits were more likely to be used by females, Medicare patients and follow-up patients compared to in-person.

Telehealth visits also provide greater convenience for patients.

"Telemedicine visits can often be incorporated in patients' day-to-day schedule so they can complete their appointments at convenient times such as before or after work, or during a break," Philippe Spiess, MD, a study co-author and medical director of virtual care at Moffitt, said in a May 2023 news release. "It gives them flexibility and ultimately increases convenience and access."

Although many cancer centers are experimenting with telehealth visits, Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center is leading the field by exploring the technology's full potential in daily care.

At MD Anderson, roughly 20% of all their telehealth appointments are for patients outside of Texas, compared to the average of 5% for other large enterprises, Dr. Navai said. Some programs like behavioral health services and pain and palliative care do nearly 90% of patient visits through telehealth.

MD Anderson has also obtained licenses in nine states to allow physicians to reach more patients, and it plans to expand to 14 states, Dr. Navai said. The center does not require physicians to see out-of-state patients, but many have engaged and recognize the value of out-of-state licensure in meeting the needs of patients.


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