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Study: Cancer Patients Satisfied with Telemedicine Visits

One of the main concerns of implementing widespread telemedicine is that patients will receive a lower quality of care. But how is quality of care measured? If it is measured based primarily on patient satisfaction, telemedicine looks to be in a very strong position. All types of patients seem to respond to telemedicine well, including cancer patients.

A recently released study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network demonstrates that the majority of surveyed patients were satisfied with telemedicine visits during the height of the COVID pandemic, when stay-at-home restrictions prevented them from visiting their doctors’ offices.

More About the Study

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center study evaluated 1,077 cancer patients divided into two groups. The control group participated in normal office visits while the study group visited with doctors via telemedicine. Patient median age was sixty-five.

Researchers did not observe any statistical difference in satisfaction between the two groups. When rating their actual experiences as opposed to expectations, 82% of the telemedicine group chose the highest score as compared to 84% of the office visit group. The highest scores were given in other rating areas as follows:

  • Quality of physician explanations – 91% telemedicine, 84% office visit
  • Level of concern – 92% telemedicine, 95% office visit
  • Friendliness – 93% telemedicine, 94% office visit.

Interestingly enough, the study did reveal a disparity between video chat and straight telephone visits. By and large, those telemedicine patients who experienced video chat had a better understanding of their treatment plans compared to the phone-only patients.

Patients Are Clearly Comfortable

It is clear from this particular study that cancer patients are comfortable using telemedicine for their doctor visits. The data is in line with previous studies suggesting patient satisfaction with telemedicine in general. So if patients are clearly comfortable, why do healthcare providers still seem so resistant?

The technology to make telemedicine work already exists. Companies like CSI Health are manufacturing cutting-edge telemedicine solutions including healthcare kiosks, mobile telemedicine kits, and even miniature telehealth clinics. Everything is in place to make telemedicine the norm for certain types of care. It is now up to those who deliver healthcare services to get on board.

Insurance Payments and Regulations

For their part, healthcare providers have legitimate telemedicine concerns relating to both insurance payments and regulations. Insurance is the stickier issue. Prior to the start of the COVID crisis, insurance carriers were not required to offer coverage for telemedicine visits. Both Washington and the states instituted temporary emergency rules to force insurance coverage during the pandemic. Those rules will eventually expire.

Providers are worried that insurance companies may choose to stop providing coverage. They are also concerned that any choosing to continue coverage will offer lower reimbursement rates. Providers certainly don’t want to earn less on telemedicine than they do on office visits.

The Need to Change the Culture

Transitioning telemedicine from outlier to mainstream option will take time. Getting it done will require changing the culture within healthcare. That may be the most challenging task of all. The system we now know has been in place since the 1970s. It is a system we are comfortable with, and one providers and insurance companies are in no rush to change.

They may soon have no other choice if the cancer patient study is any indication of consumer satisfaction across the board. Patients are clearly satisfied with certain types of telemedicine services. If they begin demanding them more frequently, providers may find they have no other choice but to offer them. If consumers do not want telemedicine, it will fade away on its own.

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