COVID-19 priorities are delaying cancer care but telehealth could help

24 Aug 2020 | 3 mins

Leading medical experts from The University of Western Australia and Notre Dame University say telehealth is important to support cancer care, particularly at a time when COVID-19 priorities are placing a considerable strain on the health system. 

The Perspectives Brief Moving towards value-based, patient-centred telehealth to support cancer care has been published in the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association’s Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research.

"We think a telehealth service model for cancer care that integrates clinical and patient-reported outcomes appears to be a way forward that supports both patient needs and the needs of health professionals. "

Professor Christobel Saunders

Professor Christobel Saunders from the UWA Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences said on the face of it health care delays appear to be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation’, but effective use of telehealth could reduce adverse outcomes and close some gaps in patient access to care.

"It will take some detailed planning and thinking through—but after analysing all the available evidence, we think a telehealth service model for cancer care that integrates clinical and patient-reported outcomes appears to be a way forward that supports both patient needs and the needs of health professionals,” Professor Saunders said.

"It obviously cannot replace all face-to-face contact, but for many aspects of care it’s an alternative that will contribute to overall outcomes that are as good as, and maybe better than, a regime based completely on face-to-face contact.”

Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Alison Verhoeven said the brief highlighted such a model could offer better value to the health system as a whole, and better outcomes through innovative use of technology. The paper shows, there is also a need for a new model of telehealth service for cancer.

“Routine collection of patient-reported outcomes using electronic patient portals or smartphone applications could highlight problems that might not be apparent during both face-to-face and non-face-to-face discussions between patients and healthcare professionals,” Ms Verhoeven said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of our healthcare system, tested political and ethical boundaries, and necessitated quick implementation of policies and practices that in ordinary times would have been unimaginable or would have taken many years to implement.”

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