Telehealth In Cancer Care – Challenge For Hospitals To Dwarf

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In a new study conducted by the University of Sydney and Duke University in the United States, people living with cancer experienced significant stress during the pandemic as a result of strict rules prohibiting a close relative, support person, or informal guardian from attending consultations and treatments.

Experts believe that all patients should have access to a caretaker or support person.

As per Professor Alex Broom of the Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies, they need to plan for the next pandemic and ensure that infection prevention measures do not leave irregular caretakers out in the cold.

Rather than debating whether telehealth or in-person appointments are superior, one must try exploring how to use technology to involve a support worker in an appointment even if they are not physically present.

He added that there is a need to speak with patients about the types of appointments they would like to be able to do virtually. One can learn from these painful pandemic experiences to improve cancer care for patients and their caregivers today and in the future in the event of a worldwide health emergency.

Broom also observed that the care provided by friends and family is sometimes overlooked in the health system, whether there is COVID or not. He stated that as healthcare professionals continue to limit access to in-person consultations for COVID-positive patients or caregivers, physicians must evaluate how caretakers can be included, especially when they are unable to attend appointments.

Broom concluded that comprehensive support from family as well as friends made the difference between coping and not coping for many cancer patients.

The study was conducted by Broom and Dr. Katherine Kenny of the University of Sydney’s Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies in collaboration with Professor Mustafa Khasraw of Duke University, who is also an honorary professor at the University of Sydney, and was published in the journal of American Association for Cancer Research’s Clinical Cancer Research.

According to Broom, the research team questioned 65 cancer patients and 28 caregivers, including family and friends, in Australia and the United States. They expected challenges, but many of them were unforeseen.

They anticipated the rapid transition to telemedicine to generate clinical communication issues, but an unexpected issue was not how it caused challenges in doctor-patient communication but how it diminished the involvement of family, friends, and caretakers in cancer care.

This, together with lockdowns and restricted mobility, obliterated crucial social networks and supports. Those networks are not only incidental; they are vital to existence.

In addition, there was a sense of cancer’s cultural vanishing—that it had dropped off the agenda in comparison to COVID, which continued to capture society’s attention.

While participants appreciated the use of telehealth for stable customers, many discovered that their healthcare providers struggled with the technology, resulting in unsatisfactory appointments with a disembodied voice attempting to deliver big things, and they felt they had the opportunity significantly reduced to ask questions or receive reassurance.

For cancer patients, many consultations and medications were still delivered face-to-face, even with pandemic restrictions. Nevertheless, this proved to be unpleasant for patients who were unable to bring a caretaker with them due to hospital regulations about visitors during the pandemic.

A fundamental recommendation of the study paper is for healthcare setups to allow remote participation of a caregiver who is not allowed to attend in person, like setting up a different room with a video connection.

According to Khasraw, the largest issues revolved around increased social isolation, fewer social supports, and the experience of societal distraction, all of which increased the difficulties of cancer survivorship.

Going forward, one should learn from these events and take measures to compensate for disrupted social networks and diminished support. One must also make better use of technological advances to combine the comfort of distance while retaining crucial connections with formal and informal caretakers.