Study Finds Few Cancer Survivors Interested in 'Virtual' Follow-Up Care

Few breast cancer survivors believe that "virtual" consultations with a physician or nurse conducted online or over the phone would alleviate their cancer-related stress, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Reuters reports.

For the study, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston surveyed 218 breast cancer survivors about how comfortable they would feel receiving follow-up care by:

  • Visiting a cancer doctor;
  • Visiting a primary care physician;
  • Visiting a nurse practitioner; or
  • Consulting with a doctor or nurse over the phone or Internet.

Key Findings

Survey respondents said in-person visits with a cancer doctor would be the most likely to reduce their worries about cancer and 80% of respondents said they believed such appointments would increase their chances of survival.

Meanwhile, more than half of respondents said in-person visits with a primary care physician or a nurse practitioner would reduce their cancer worries and increase their chances of survival.

However, the study found that only:

  • 20% of respondents said virtual consultations over the phone or Internet would improve their chances of survival; and
  • 12% of respondents said virtual consultations would reduce their cancer-related stress.

In addition, some respondents said virtual visits would increase their stress and reduce their chances of survival.

Possible Explanations

Erica Mayer -- a Dana-Farber physician, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and study co-author -- said respondents might have been wary of virtual visits because the survey was brief and did not fully explain what a virtual consultation would entail. She said the researchers envisioned the virtual visits as a way for cancer survivors who are doing well to have regular check-ins, not as a replacement for cancer screenings or physical exams.

Christine Hill-Kayser -- a radiation oncologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study -- said many patients might be unfamiliar with the idea of virtual medical consultations. She said, "When patients first hear, 'Oh, we can do a follow-up from your house, you don't even have to come in,' it might seem like they're not getting as good care" (Pittman, Reuters, 12/15).

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