Dr Debra Patt Discusses the Increased Use of Telemedicine and Digital Health During the Pandemic

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst to increase the use of digital health and telemedicine, allowing providers to continue to deliver great care and even reach their rural patients, said Debra Patt, MD, PhD, MBA, executive vice president of Texas Oncology.

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst to increase the use of digital health and telemedicine, allowing providers to continue to deliver great care and even reach their rural patients, said Debra Patt, MD, PhD, MBA, executive vice president of Texas Oncology.

Transcript

How has cancer care benefitted from an increased use of telemedicine during the pandemic?

So, while we've talked a lot about the challenges that we've seen—and I will say it has been a difficult time to practice medicine and I don't shy away from hard work, but this has been the most challenging year and a half—I think that there are silver linings. I've been grateful to see the emergence of telemedicine that I think has been a stable and sustainable way to deliver great cancer care to patients. I think actually that in cancer care, it's really a model for great longitudinal care and telemedicine, because most of us are seeing patients virtually that we have long and established relationships with, so that's really the sweet spot for telemedicine. I've diagnosed many cancers by telemedicine. I have made hundreds of medication changes by telemedicine. So, I think that's the sweet spot.

Other digital health care solutions that have been silver linings in the pandemic have been electronic patient-reported outcomes instruments to better monitor patients symptoms, and get them to interact with the clinic without necessarily having to come in. These are ways in which digital health care solutions can help enhance patient care. And that's really meaningful. I think that there wouldn't be the same catalyst to implement these systems if it weren't for the pandemic.

So, no one would wish this upon us, but looking back to see did it give us any gifts? I would say that remote patient monitoring, electronic symptom management, digital health care, telemedicine, which we're now evolving really to virtual care delivery solutions, are all silver linings that will serve us for decades to come.

Practicing in a big state like Texas, are you noticing a digital divide among your patients?

Most patients are able to access virtual care, but it is a greater challenge in rural Texas than in other states. If you look at the ability for patients that live rurally to have good broadband access, Texas is actually the most limited. So, some of our patients do have access issues and in my practice, you know that I can speak of, we have 210 sites of service, many of them are in rural locations. And that that can be an issue.

But despite that we have done a lot of our care virtually, and patients find a way to connect so it is a challenge. It is a great challenge to virtual health care, virtual education, and the governor has prioritized solving for it. But we are still able to deliver great virtual care and telemedicine even in rural Texas. So, that's been a real silver lining and I think it's something that is a great gift that would not have probably happened if the pandemic hadn't served as a catalyst.