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Back to all 10-October 2020
07 Oct 2020
2020 10-Oct

Cancer care on your iPhone - science fiction or strategic?

  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

Did you know that in the United States, you can purchase Digital Doctor Gift Certificates? They can be bought in different dollar amounts, like a JB Hi-Fi or Bunnings gift card, only you exchange them for a video chat with a doctor via phone, tablet, or personal computer.

Data suggests that mothers are the biggest users of telemedicine in the US because they say it enables them to get the care they need quickly and efficiently. Virtual doctor companies were big business before COVID-19, and during the pandemic demand has skyrocketed.

COVID-19 prompts consideration of new ideas

Differences in our health systems mean uptake of telehealth services in Australia has been more conservative. But still, the way in which we think about online health support has altered in the face of COVID-19, and long-held beliefs are being questioned.

A tool that was once thought to be only for the young and tech-savvy has become a more viable option to treat older patients closer to home, reduce pressure on the health system, and deliver quality care in areas that wouldn’t normally have access to specialist knowledge and multidisciplinary teams. What’s not to like?

The Telehealth Expert Working Group within the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN) – a joint initiative of the VCCC and Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium, is evaluating the experience of patients and clinicians who have had telehealth consultations using both video and phone. The survey results will help to inform decision-makers on how telehealth may be best conducted in Victoria during and beyond COVID-19. The telehealth project managers undertaking the survey are Cass Beer and Genevieve Johnston.

Cass says, “Telehealth services have been critical to ensuring patients have had ongoing access to cancer care during the pandemic. We want to ensure that moving forward, patients and clinicians are supported to have the opportunity to continue to access telehealth when it is appropriate.”

"We want to ensure that moving forward, patients and clinicians are supported to have the opportunity to continue to access telehealth when it is appropriate.”

Access to telehealth provides a choice of options

Some of the more obvious barriers are thought to be access to technology both at home and within health service infrastructure. Zoom birthday parties and family quiz nights in recent months may have shortened that divide, certainly for older Victorians. When given the choice of a couch consultation or six-hour return trip to Melbourne, a larger proportion may now opt for the couch.

The advantage of the pandemic forcing a move towards new technology and behaviour is that people tend to ‘get on with it’ and somehow it is not as difficult as first imagined. Now the first step has been taken, would patients in some areas consider a ‘regional hub’ to connect to telehealth a good option?

Some clinicians have not even ‘gone there’. We know that supportive care referrals have been limited for those receiving telehealth. How do you care for patients who are experiencing family violence? What do patients and clinicians prefer? Is there a bias to video or phone? What gets in the way of a productive consultation?

We are keen to hear your views. The survey will be open until 31 December 2020, but we encourage you to take part while the experience is fresh in your mind.

For more information or to participate, please contact Cass Beer at Cassandra.Beer@unimelb.edu.au or Genevieve Johnston Genevieve.Johnston@unimelb.edu.au