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Study: Telehealth use linked to lower cancer care costs

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Oncology patients saved both time and travel costs when utilizing telehealth services, reducing the cost burden associated with cancer care, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

The economic evaluation, conducted through Moffitt Cancer Center, estimated patient cost savings due to telehealth, including the cost of travel and potential loss of productivity due to the medical visit.

Researchers evaluated 25,496 telehealth visits that occurred between April 2020 and June 2021 involving 11,688 Floridian patients ranging from 18 and 65 years of age. 

Among 4,525 new or established visits and 20,971 follow-up visits, the estimated mean total cost savings ranged from $147.40 at $0.56 per mile to $186.10 at $0.82 per mile. 

Savings pertaining to new or established visits ranged from $176.60 at $0.56 per mile to $222.80 at $0.82 per mile, while follow-up visits ranged from $141.10 saved at $0.56 per mile to $178.10 at $0.82 per mile. 

The cost of travel was based on roundtrip distance using a car, while loss of productivity was defined as loss of income from roundtrip travel plus loss of income from in-person clinic visits. 

“Telehealth was associated with a total savings of 3,789,963 roundtrip travel miles, which equates to traveling 152.2 times around the earth, and a total savings of 75,055 roundtrip drive hours, which equates to 8.6 calendar years. An additional 3.4 calendar years (29,626 hours) were saved in clinic visits by using telehealth,” the study’s authors wrote. 

WHY IT MATTERS

Researchers noted the study has limitations, since it focused on patients attending a tertiary/quaternary referral center, where patients may have had to travel a longer distance due to their specific need for cancer care. 

Income estimates and employment rates could also vary due some cancer patients’ inability to work during treatment, thus varying the estimated savings from loss of productivity. Also, researchers assumed travel time and hours of visit time could not be made up for when evaluating cost savings due to loss of productivity.

Researchers did not account for the costs of the electronic devices used for the telehealth visits or the expenses associated with internet access. Area of residence (rural versus urban), race, education and insurance type were also not considered. 

“Patients with cancer spend a substantial amount of time and money traveling to receive care. Using a large data set, we found that cancer care delivery via telehealth was associated with time, travel and cost savings for patients with cancer, which may reduce the financial toxicity of cancer care. Future studies should explore other cost savings, such as the savings to cancer caregivers and how these vary for rural and urban patients with cancer,” the researchers wrote. 



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