During the COVID-19 pandemic, breast cancer patient in-person visits were converted to telehealth visits. Given our concerns about increased isolation amongst breast cancer patients during the pandemic, and the deleterious effects of such isolation on patient outcomes, we investigated utilization rates of psycho-social services amongst newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at our institution. We explored visit platforms (telehealth versus in-person) and time points prior to and encompassing the early pandemic. Despite decreased new breast cancer visits, there was a greater than 2-fold increase in supportive oncology service encounters in breast cancer patients during COVID-19 suggesting increased need for psycho-oncology resources. While services had not been offered virtually prior to the pandemic, the majority of the supportive oncology visits were conducted via telehealth during the initial months (73%) and year (59%) of the pandemic. 89% of breast cancer patients accessing psycho-social services were in-state patients, and service utilization increased amongst rural and urban residents during the pandemic. Total numbers of rural patients receiving supportive oncology services remained low compared to numbers of urban patients, however, though virtual visits predominated. While the number of out-of-state patients accessing psycho-oncology services during the pandemic was low, there was a 5-fold increase in psycho-social service utilization in this group during the pandemic. The majority of these visits were in-person. Telehealth services can be used to extend psycho-social support to breast cancer patients and combat the experience of isolation exacerbated by the pandemic. Virtual visits can be further utilized to increase outreach to rural and out-of-state patients.
This article is associated with the Innovation & Technology lens of The Beryl Institute Experience Framework (https://theberylinstitute.org/experience-framework/).
Erickson JR, Pahlkotter MK, Thielking PD, Porretta JM, Rosenthal R, Matsen CB, Brownson KE. Leveraging telehealth supportive oncology services to combat COVID-19 isolation in breast cancer patients: A cancer center’s perspective. Patient Experience Journal. 2023; 10(2):133-137. doi: 10.35680/2372-0247.1645.
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