Telehealth Effective in Addressing Rural Cancer Care Disparities

July 13, 2020

Researchers examined the effectiveness of telehealth in addressing rural-urban disparities in cancer care by establishing and analyzing synaptic knowledge networks presented at the 2020 ASCO Virtual Scientific Program.

The synaptic knowledge network of telehealth implemented by researchers enhanced the reach and quality of care for patients as measured by volume, in-migration, clinical trial activity, and national quality accreditations, according to an abstract presented at the 2020 ASCO Virtual Scientific Program.

More, the application of these synaptic knowledge networks specifically to other rural locations is a promising strategy to limit rural-urban cancer care disparities moving forward.

As defined by the researchers, the synaptic knowledge network is “the knowledge dissemination that occurs through a telehealth connected rural oncology program involving a Comprehensive Cancer Center partner and disseminated rural telemedicine nodes.”

The abstract explained that using both virtual tumor boards and telehealth clinics in combination associated with program growth to 3 medical oncologists, 1 radiation oncologist, and expansion into a 20,000 square foot facility.

Also, the researchers saw a steady increase in the overall number of total new patient visits, the percentage of patients coming from zip codes outside of the primary catchment area, the number of clinical trial enrollments, and quality accreditations.

Specifically, from 2006 to 2018 the number of new patient visits increased from 60 visits to 506 visits. Over that same time period, the in-migration rate increased from 1% to 62%, clinical trial enrollments increased from 0 to 29, and quality accreditations increased from 0 to 5.

“The program is accredited by the Commission on Cancer with commendation, ASTRO’s APEX, ASCO’s QOPI and CancerLinq programs, and is a G02Foundation for Lung Cancer Community Center of Excellence,” wrote the researchers in the study’s abstract.

Back in 2006, an author of this abstract established an oncology program in a rural California community with only a single critical access hospital without oncology services. This program joined with 4 other facilities that compromise the UC Davis Cancer Care Network.

More, remote telemedicine clinics were established outside the range of the primary catchment area to serve other rural communities. To collect the data, the researchers assessed the reach and quality of the program through referrals, in-migration, clinical trial accruals and accreditations.

The purpose of this study is to examine how telemedicine technologies can connect providers to rural areas with a history of reduced access to high-quality cancer care in hopes of reducing the rural-urban disparities in cancer care.

Reference:

Heifetz LJ, Koppel AB, Kaime EM, et al. Addressing rural disparities in cancer care via telehealth. Presented at: 2020 ASCO Virtual Scientific Program; May 29, 2020. Abstract e19090.