By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - January 18, 2023
Going through cancer treatment is a stressful time for patients and their families. And the increasing cost of health care only adds to the distress. Financial toxicity is an important topic in cancer care delivery. The National Cancer Institute estimates the average cost of treatment the year following a cancer diagnosis adds up to $42,000, but some of the newer, more specialized therapies can raise that total significantly.
One growing area of health care that is helping to reduce costs and time for patients is telemedicine. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of virtual visits for patient care and follow-up. Moffitt Cancer Center established a Department of Virtual Medicine to help with this effort.
“Our cancer center had previously been doing a small number of telehealth visits prior to the pandemic as part of a clinical pilot, but we saw a 5,000% increase in the number of virtual visits during 2020 and 2021,” said Dr. Philippe Spiess, medical director of Virtual Care at Moffitt. “While the increase in virtual visits met a crucial need to optimize convenience for patients during the pandemic, it also had another benefit. It saved them both time and money, while integrating this in the daily clinical schedule of our providers dedicated to meeting the needs of their patients.”
Spiess and his colleagues conducted a study to determine just how much time and money was saved from telehealth services. They analyzed 25,496 virtual cancer care visits with 11,688 patients living in Florida between April 2020 and June 2021. Their key data takeaways were cost of travel and potential loss of productivity due to medical visits.
Their results, which were published this month in JAMA Network Open, showed a total savings of 3,789,963 travel miles (a distance equal to traveling around the Earth 152.2 times) and 75,055 roundtrip drive hours (an equivalent of 8.6 calendar years). An additional 29,626 hours (an equivalent of 3.4 calendar years) were saved in clinic visits by using telemedicine.
“Our patients travel from all over the state, as well as nationally and internationally, to receive care at Moffitt. When you think about getting back and forth to the treatment site, time off from work, loss in income, loss of employment, it can really add up. We wanted to quantify the benefits to highlight the important role telemedicine can play in cancer care delivery,” said Dr. Krupal Patel, lead study author and assistant member of the Head & Neck – Endocrine Oncology Department at Moffitt.
Two cost models were used to determine money saved, including combined mileage rates for travel and census tract-level median hourly wages productivity. The average estimated cost savings per visit ranged between $147.40 to $186.10.
“Telehealth gives us the opportunity to deliver high quality care to patients from a distance, saving them both time and money. We also believe this service has the potential to decrease disparities in care delivery if access to technology is equitable,” said Cristina Naso, director of Virtual Health.
Moffitt is continuing to expand and improve its telemedicine services, working to streamline scheduling, provide active technical support and integrate interpreter services.
Telemedicine Study Key Data Takeaways
- Total Travel Miles Saved = 3,789,963
- Total Drive Hours Saved = 75,055
- Total Clinic Hours Saved = 29,626
- Average Money Saved = $147.40-$186.10 per visit