One of the most pressing challenges brought on by the coronavirus crisis is its serious impact on the delivery of health services. The burden is particularly heavy among patients in need of urgent and continuous treatment such as those living with cancer.
As countries are prompted to place populations in quarantine and limit movement and gatherings to stem the spread of infection, a workaround that continues to gain acceptance is telemedicine, wherein screening or consultation between a doctor and a patient is conducted via video or phone conferencing instead of in-person appointments.
In the Philippines, telehealth provides a better cancer management alternative, especially since patients with underlying conditions are in greater danger of developing more serious complications from COVID-19.
Through telemedicine, cancer patients can “communicate their concerns to their doctors without unnecessarily exposing themselves to the risks of getting infected,” says Amiel Herrera, chief executive officer of a full-suite telehealth and clinical informatics company in the National Capital Region.
Healthcare in the ‘new normal’
Virtual clinics have been in existence prior to the pandemic, but the acceptance rate among medical practitioners before was less than 50 percent, Herrera notes.
When the threat of COVID-19 resulted in confinements everywhere leading to remote arrangements such as work from home and online schooling, “the percentage of physicians accepting telemedicine increased to 90 percent as part of their new normal.”
“Doctors have adapted to the technology by studying more about the basics and ethics of telemedicine, as well as building their social identities for the purpose of having a virtual clinic and conducting telemedicine. They have created Facebook accounts and pages to serve like their clinics, and used hospital-suggested telemedicine providers or other EMR solutions that have telemedicine features,” shares Herrera.
Benefits of tele-oncology
Cancer patients can be classified into three types: patients in the follow-up stage or taking orally administered medications; the recently diagnosed undergoing curative therapy; and those with advanced cancer receiving palliative care.
It is the oncologist who will assess and recommend if and when a patient may switch to telemedicine.
Without requiring any special equipment or setup other than a computer or a smartphone and an appropriate platform, online consultations empower oncologists to perform routine follow-ups, discuss test results and patients’ response to therapy, as well as offer payment options.
Cancer patients can easily contact physicians for electronic prescriptions or talk about new symptoms, apprehensions, or questions without having to leave their home and endure the long wait at the clinic.
“It has made doctors more accessible. Virtual clinics allow them to have consultations with cancer patients in the safety and convenience of their home, and this has improved patient outcomes in comparison to no consultation at all,” says Herrera.
Since telemedicine minimizes the need to visit healthcare facilities, it also helps reduce demand for PPEs (personal protective equipment).
Though not without drawbacks, telemedicine as a solution-focused approach continues to evolve and adapt to the needs of both patients and doctors.
Herrera discloses that certain guidelines have begun to be established, including having an informed consent form detailing the risks and limitations of telemedicine, setting a time limit for the consultation, and learning how to perform virtual physical examination, among others.
To know more about available options for the treatment and management of cancer during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, go to hopefromwithin.org or www.facebook.com/Hopefromwithinph.
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