Preparing patients for telehealth cancer care
Ensure your patients are ready for cancer care via telehealth by following these steps.
Screening for cancer through telehealth
An effective cancer screening protocol can lead to earlier detection of malignancies and increase the chances of successful treatment. Most cancer screening exams, such as mammograms for breast cancer and colonoscopies for colorectal cancer, require an in-person visit. However, primary care providers can integrate risk factor screening as well as informed and shared decision-making conversations about cancer screening as a part of regular telehealth visits.
Examples of tele-screening
If you believe that your patient may be at risk for colorectal cancer, a test can be conducted without an in-person visit. The fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. Patients collect the sample at home with a prescribed kit, then mail it off to a lab for testing. When the analysis is complete, you can review the results through a telehealth appointment.
Additionally, you may be able to screen for certain skin cancers via telehealth, using a dermascope or dermatascope.
Creating a cancer care plan using telehealth
If a patient under your care is diagnosed with cancer, it is vital to begin a treatment plan via telehealth as quickly as possible. Topics to discuss with patients and their loved ones or caregivers include:
- Establishing a regular telehealth appointment schedule
- Explaining when in-person visits are necessary (surgical procedures, routine lab testing)
- Outlining necessary medication and other treatments, such as chemotherapy and side effect management
- Post-treatment follow-up care (as appropriate)
After the first post-diagnosis telehealth visit is complete, compile the information above into a brief, easy-to-read electronic document and send it to the patient and their loved ones or caregivers. Care plans typically include:
- Date of diagnosis
- Tumor stage
- Appointment schedule (in person and telehealth)
- Past, present, and future treatments (surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone treatment)
- Significant events during treatment (side effects, weight loss or gain, psychological distress, etc.)
- Nutrition plans and pain management protocols
- Other health conditions the patient may be experiencing
- Enrollment in clinical trials, if applicable
Virtual support groups
Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a traumatic experience, and many patients express feelings of hopelessness and isolation.
Support groups and counseling, including those offered through telehealth, can help patients and their loved ones cope with these difficult feelings, connect with other people going through a similar experience, and stay on track with their treatment plans, no matter where they live. Some patients who struggle with anxiety value telehealth support groups due to the added benefit of not necessarily having to show their face, in person or on camera.
The National Cancer Institute has a searchable support database that you can share with your patients. You can also contact your local health department to find mental health professionals in your area who specialize in virtual cancer support services.