“Telemedicine can improve access to timely cancer care but as this study points out, telemedicine must be available equitably, so that every patient can access the care they need and deserve,” said ASCO President Everett E. Vokes, MD, FASCO.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — With the rapid acceleration of the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the United States in March 2020, telemedicine visits became more common for cancer care. However, in an evaluation of telemedicine inequities in 21 common cancers, there were distinctly lower levels of telemedicine use by Black patients and those who were uninsured, lived in suburban or rural areas, and resided in a neighborhood with low socioeconomic status. The research will be presented at the 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting.
Study at a Glance
Inequities in the use of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health records of 26,788 people 18 years of age or older who started treatment for cancer between March 2020 and November 2021 (follow-up through March 2022).
The results of this study point to the need to reduce inequities in the use of telemedicine for cancer care.
Black patients were less likely to use telemedicine services than white patients (13.2% vs. 15.6%, respectively) during the first two years or so of the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine use was lower among patients without documented insurance than those with private insurance or Medicare (11.7% vs. 16.4%). Patients in rural (9.8%) and suburban areas (12.9%) were less likely to use telemedicine services than patients in urban areas (17.7%). Patients living in the lowest socioeconomic status areas were less likely to use telemedicine than those in the highest areas (10.6% vs. 23.6%).
“Our study provides the most recent and comprehensive evaluation of trends and inequities in telemedicine use across many sociodemographic characteristics. While telemedicine may expand access to specialty care, the proliferation of these services may widen cancer care disparities if vulnerable populations do not have equitable access,” said lead author Jenny S. Guadamuz, PhD, a Quantitative Scientist at Flatiron Health.
About the Study
The health records used in the study were from 26,788 patients who were 18 years of age or older and who started first-line cancer treatment between March 2020 and November 2021 (with follow-up through March 2022) at community-based cancer centers. The investigators looked at differences in the number of telemedicine visits across race/ethnicity, insurance coverage, rural vs. suburban vs. urban residence, and neighborhood socioeconomic status and found that 15.9% of patients in the study used telemedicine services within 90 days (about 3 months) after initiation of systemic cancer treatment.
The data for the study was derived from electronic records from Flatiron Health. Before March 2020, only a very small percentage of patients with cancer used telemedicine servicesi.
ASCO Statement on Telehealth
In July 2021, JCO Oncology Practice published ASCO’s standards and practice recommendations specific to telehealth in oncology.
The standards were developed during the COVID-19 pandemic when new rules around reimbursement for telehealth had recently been implemented in the United States. Amid the evolving health care delivery landscape, ASCO identified a need for specific standards for oncology that would fill gaps in the general telehealth guidance. The standards focus on which patients oncology practices should see via telehealth, virtual multidisciplinary cancer conference meetings, clinical trials via telehealth in oncology and the role of advanced practice providers and allied health professionals.
The study researchers emphasize that it will be important to evaluate whether the use of telemedicine is associated with quality care.
The researchers hope the lessons learned from this study are imparted to cancer care centers nationwide with the goals of:
- Ensuring that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) policies that allowed the proliferation of telemedicine services are made permanent and not just tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration.
- Improving access to health insurance – one of the greatest determinants of telemedicine use.
- Making sure that technologies are accessible for those with low tech literacy and limited English proficiency, which is distinct from health literacy.
This study received funding from Flatiron Health.
View the author disclosures: https://coi.asco.org/Report/ViewAbstractCOI?id=376284
View the disclosures for ASCO’s Cancer Communications Committee: https://www.asco.org/sites/new-www.asco.org/files/content-files/about-asco/pdf/2022-asco-ccc-disclosures.pdf
View the disclosures for Dr. Vokes: https://coi.asco.org/share/4SR-2FFX/Everett%20Vokes
For your readers:
- COVID-19 Resources for People With Cancer
- Telemedicine in Cancer Care: Rewards and Risks
- Cancer Does Not Affect All People Equally: An Expert Q&A on Cancer Disparities and Health Equity
- What Are Social Determinants of Health and How Do They Affect People With Cancer?
- Cancer.Net Blog Post in Spanish
ATTRIBUTION TO THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CLINICAL ONCOLOGY ANNUAL MEETING IS REQUESTED IN ALL COVERAGE.
i Evaluation of Telemedicine Use Among US Patients With Newly Diagnosed Cancer by Socioeconomic Status: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2786410
Founded in 1964, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) is committed to the principle that knowledge conquers cancer. Together with the Association for Clinical Oncology, ASCO represents nearly 45,000 oncology professionals who care for people living with cancer. Through research, education, and promotion of high quality, equitable patient care, ASCO works to conquer cancer and create a world where cancer is prevented or cured, and every survivor is healthy. Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, supports ASCO by funding groundbreaking research and education across cancer’s full continuum. ASCO is supported by its affiliate organization, the Conquer Cancer Foundation. Learn more at www.ASCO.org, explore patient education resources at www.Cancer.Net, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.