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Telemedicine is Revolutionizing Oncology

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Telemedicine is affecting all physicians, no matter what their specialty. As the physician-shortage crisis worsens, hospitals and healthcare organizations, especially in rural areas, are turning to telemedicine as a possible solution to their physician plight.

For this reason, it is almost a guarantee that you will encounter this technology at your next place of employment. And if you’re an oncologist or a physician who regularly works with cancer specialists, telemedicine is becoming a means of pre-screening patients.

For example, UT Southwestern Medical Center, along with the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center, in Dallas, Texas, launched the first and only telemedicine genetics screening program in 2012. Recently, they received a three-year CPRIT grant to expand this program from underserved populations in six counties to 22 counties. This will enable UT Southwestern to reach a patient population that is twice the size of the state of Massachusetts.

According to Dr. Theodora Ross, director of the cancer genetics program at UT Southwestern Medical Center, who spoke with me for Healthcare Executive Exchange, patients are remotely interviewed on their family history. Those who qualify undergo genetic testing for Hereditary Breast-Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) and Lynch syndrome, two of the most commonly inherited cancer predisposition syndromes. For those carrying these mutations, the lifetime risk for breast, ovarian, colorectal, and uterine cancer is as high as 85 percent.

Although only four telemedicine sites are available to these counties, the sites are strategically positioned to be no farther than an hour away for patients. She said they’ve also partnered with UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, to augment the research the medical center is doing.

“They focus on community health services,” Ross said. “We’re into research here.”

Education is a major part of the program’s mission, and Ross said her team plans to accomplish their educational goals by expanding the involvement of genetic navigators in the virtual end of the program.

We’ll go into greater detail about genetic navigators in our next post. In the meantime, for the oncologists reading this, how is telemedicine, and technology in general, affecting your approach to the delivery of cancer care? How do you expect this technology to impact you at your next job? What kind of telemedicine program would you want your future employer to have?

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