Telemedicine Amid COVID
- A 23-year-old mother had three appointments canceled due to COVID, and was then given a cancer diagnosis via Zoom.
- COVID-19 has disrupted hospital visits for patients, and led to a surge in use of telemedicine appointments.
- Receiving a cancer diagnosis virtually may lead to feelings of grief and anxiety; there are many resources available to help mitigate these feelings.
Eccles told The Sun, “I have been given a one percent chance of survival and told I have around six months to live. I had my daughter at home when I took the video call and was so shocked I couldn’t speak. I can’t help thinking how different it might have been if there had been no pandemic and my cancer had been diagnosed earlier.”
Telemedicine During COVID-19
Unfortunately, Eccles’ experience of canceled appointments due to COVID-19 is not uncommon, according to many patients.
The young mom first thought she had a mouth ulcer after noticing a growth on her cheek in June 2019. The growth increased, and she booked a consultation, biopsy, and MRI for early 2020. Her appointments were scheduled for the start of the COVID-19 lockdown and were canceled.
Patients and providers are finding ways to adapt to the pandemic, and some have been using telemedicine regularly prior to 2020. Dr. Zachary Reese, a medical oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare, spoke with SurivorNet in an earlier interview and said, “Telemedicine, believe it or not, works really well for cancer therapy. And at Intermountain we’ve been doing telemedicine for cancer patients since 2015.”
Dr. Reese said that many symptoms can easily be discussed virtually. “What we’ve learned is that first of all, most of what we’re doing is based on a number of things that include history, meaning, how you are feeling as a patient, what kind of side effects are you having from the treatment, are you having pain, are you experiencing nausea? And most of that can be obtained by just chatting with an individual. So telemedicine actually works really well for that.”
Additionally, information can just as easily be conveyed virtually, he said. “A lot of what we’re doing is also determined based on either laboratory data, bloodwork, or based on imaging– CAT scans, MRIs, PET scans. And with technology today we can actually do a telemedicine visit where I can still turn the computer around and I can show you the CAT scans while you’re sitting in your own home or at a distant clinic and still feel like you’re getting all the information that you need to make the right decisions for you and your cancer care. So telemedicine actually works really well.”
Dr. Reese admits, though, that it is not a fool-proof system. He tells SurvivorNet, “Now, that’s not to say that it’s perfect because there are some limitations, specifically with regards to the physical exam. I can’t feel your abdomen to tell you is it more bloated, is it less bloated, or more distended or less distended than it was before. I can’t feel a lymph node in the neck and see is that getting bigger or not. But fortunately, we can further evaluate that by, again, using CAT scans to get something that’s more objective in that case.”
How Doctors Use Telemedicine for Ovarian Cancer During COVID-19
Receiving a Cancer Diagnosis Virtually
Most people would prefer to meet with their doctor in person, particularly while receiving news of a cancer diagnosis. COVID-19 has made that option for in-person meetings difficult, so many are receiving diagnoses via Zoom or other online video chat systems targeted to healthcare, like Telehealth.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis can cause many unpleasant emotions, such as grief, stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s important to know that there are resources available to help make coping with this news easier to bear. Many find that tools such as therapy and support groups can be helpful.
Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview, “I think what so many mental health professionals are worried about is already the PTSD from having a diagnosis of cancer, but when you incorporate all the anxiety that goes along with a global pandemic, that is almost a volcano that is just so much for any cancer patient to bear. And we don’t know that stress necessarily worsens somebody’s outcome simply by saying that they were stressed.”
Dr. Comen emphasizes that patients need to know they’re not alone. She said, “So what I think it’s so important for our cancer patients to know even before this global pandemic is that they are definitely, definitely, definitely not alone. There are so many patients going through exactly what you’re going through. There are many, many resources available to them. So at their hospital, they may have social workers that are able to just do telemedicine in their home, and communicate with them, and video chat with them.”