Radiation Oncologist Perceptions of Telemedicine from Consultation to Treatment Planning: A Mixed-Methods Study

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2020 Oct 1;108(2):421-429. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2020.07.007.


PURPOSE: Telemedicine was rapidly implemented for initial consultations and radiation treatment planning in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In this study, we explore utilization of and physician perspectives on this approach in an attempt to identify patient populations that may benefit most from virtual care.

METHODS AND MATERIALS: This is a mixed-methods study with a convergent design. Approximately 6 to 8 weeks after implementation of telemedicine, all radiation oncologists in a single academic radiation oncology department were invited to participate in either semistructured interviews with embedded survey questions or a concurrently administered survey only. Rapid qualitative analysis was used to identify common themes, and quantitative data was assessed using descriptive statistics and univariable analyses.

RESULTS: At the apex of the pandemic, 92% of radiation oncology visits were conducted via telemedicine. In total, 51 of 61 radiation oncologists participated in the study (response rate 84%). Most (71%) reported no difference in ability to treat cancer appropriately via telemedicine, which was more common among specialized physicians (P = .01) but not those with higher visit volume or years of experience. Over half (55%) perceived no difference or even improvement in overall visit quality with telemedicine. Virtual visits were deemed acceptable for a median of 70% to 96% of patients, which varied by disease site. Need for physical examination, and availability of an acceptable proxy, factored into telemedicine acceptability. Most (88%) found telemedicine better than expected, but opinions were split on how telemedicine would affect physician burnout. Almost all (96%) foresaw a role for telemedicine beyond the pandemic and would opt for a median of 50% (interquartile range 20%-66%) of visits conducted via telemedicine.

CONCLUSIONS: Among radiation oncologists in an academic setting, telemedicine was perceived to be highly appropriate and acceptable for most patients. Future studies should focus on identifying the 5% to 30% of patients whose care may be optimized with in-person visits, and if there is alignment with patient preferences.

PMID:32890525 | PMC:PMC7462757 | DOI:10.1016/j.ijrobp.2020.07.007