In late 2019, the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan, China. Since then, the ongoing global pandemic has forced modifications to large sectors of human activity to limit the spread of the disease.
While many schools and businesses were able to use technology to convert more of their activities into virtual classrooms and workspaces, healthcare providers also saw increases in the use of telemedicine to deliver care to their patients. The idea of telemedicine is not new, having already been used for many patients, including those who live in remote areas without easy access to the clinic.1,2 But due to the need to protect patients from COVID-19 infection, while maintaining the highest standard of care possible, many clinics have switched almost entirely to remote video visits.1,2 In fact, even patients on clinical trials now have access to remote visits.1
“I must say, it’s worked out quite well so far,” said Dr Steven Coutre, Professor of Medicine in the Hematology Department at Stanford University Medical Center.1 He noted that patients seem quite satisfied being able to have their questions answered and receive appropriate monitoring regardless of whether they are receiving current therapy.1
Although video visits allow a patient to speak directly with their healthcare provider, telemedicine has one obvious limit: doctors are unable to perform routine physical procedures that they would do in the clinic. For patients with blood conditions like chronic leukocytic leukemia (CLL), one of these procedures is the routine blood draw that is an important part of monitoring the state of the disease. Fortunately, recent years have seen an increase in the use of electronic medical records and the networking of medical systems, so that patients can often get their tests done at a local lab or by a family doctor, rather than having to visit a hematologist or oncologist.1 “Some patients can have labs drawn at home depending upon their insurance or capabilities,” added Dr Nicole Lamanna at the Columbia University/Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center.2
While telemedicine has become a larger part of monitoring and follow-up, it cannot fully replace a physical doctor’s visit. Patients who are obviously sick or have noticed a rapid change in their condition should still try to make an office visit to see their healthcare provider.2 For many patients, this may mean overcoming the fear of contracting COVID-19.2 Patients should know that medical centers and practices are providing patients with masks and gloves as soon as they walk through the door, and they are thoroughly cleaning their facilities to reduce the risk of infection.2 The last thing that healthcare providers want is for their patients to delay getting the care they need and then have to come to the emergency department later.2 For patients with CLL, delaying care could be life-threatening.2
The COVID-19 pandemic will not last forever, but many physicians agree that the increased use of telemedicine is here to stay.1,2 Through continued use, healthcare providers and CLL patients will find the right balance between using telemedicine and in-person visits to optimize patient care.2
- Coutre S. How can CLL patients take advantage of telemedicine? Patient Empowerment Network. June 2020. https://powerfulpatients.org/2020/06/17/how-can-cll-patients-take-advantage-of-telemedicine. Accessed January 24, 2021.
- Lamanna N. Telemedicine for patients with CLL. OncLiveTV. August 2020. www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKN5K0us-uU&ab_channel=OncLiveTV. Accessed January 26, 2021.