Rapid Implementation of Telemedicine During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Perspectives and Preferences of Patients with Cancer

Shira Peleg Hasson*, Barliz Waissengrin, Eliya Shachar, Marah Hodruj, Rochelle Fayngor, Mirika Brezis, Alla Nikolaevski-Berlin, Sharon Pelles, Tamar Safra, Ravit Geva, Ido Wolf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: The use of telemedicine in oncology practice is rapidly expanding and is considered safe and cost effective. However, the implications of telemedicine on patient-physician interaction, patient satisfaction, and absence of the personal touch have not been studied to date. Following the spread of COVID-19, telemedicine services were rapidly incorporated at the Oncology Division of Tel Aviv Medical Center. We aimed to evaluate patients' perspectives and preferences regarding telemedicine and to assess whether this virtual communication platform affects the patient-physician relationship. Methods: Between March 2020 and May 2020, adult cancer patients who conducted at least one successful telemedicine meeting were interviewed by trained medical personnel. The interview was based on validated patient satisfaction questionnaires and focused on patient-physician interaction in relation to the last in-patient visit. Results: Of 236 patients, 172 (74%) patients agreed to participate. The study population comprised mainly patients with gastrointestinal malignancies (n = 79, 46%) with a median age of 63 years (range 21–88). The majority of patients were male (n = 93, 54%). Eighty-nine (51.7%) patients were receiving active oncologic treatment, and 58 (33.7%) were under routine surveillance following completion of active therapy. Almost all had a sense of secured privacy (n = 171, 96%), the majority of patients affirmed that their concerns were met (n = 166, 93%) and perceived that eye contact with the treating physician was perceived (n = 156, 87%). Only a minority felt that the absence of physical clinic visits harmed their treatment (n = 36, 20%). Most patients (n = 146, 84.9%) wished to continue telemedicine services. A multivariate analysis revealed that higher satisfaction and visits for routine surveillance were both predictors of willingness to continue future telemedicine meetings over physical encounters (odds ratio [OR] = 2.41, p =.01; OR = 3.34, p =.03, respectively). Conclusion: Telemedicine is perceived as safe and effective, and patients did not feel that it compromised medical care or the patient-physician relationship. Integration of telemedicine is ideal for patients under surveillance after completion of active oncologic treatment. Physician communication skills workshops are warranted with implementing this platform. Implications for Practice: During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine was rapidly implemented worldwide to facilitate continuity of quality care and treatment. Despite many potential setbacks, telemedicine has become a useful and safe tool for oncology practitioners to care for their patients. The use of telemedicine regarding patients' perspectives, emotions, and patient-physician communication in daily oncology practice has not been studied to date. This study demonstrated telemedicine is perceived as safe and effective and does not compromise medical care or the patient-physician relationship. Its use is ideal for surveillance after completion of active oncologic treatment. Physician communication skills workshops are warranted with implementing this platform.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e679-e685
JournalOncologist
Volume26
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Cancer
  • Quality care
  • Telemedicine

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