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Telemedicine and Cancer Care

By July 16, 2010Commentary

In the search for better and less expensive ways to manage the care of patients with a variety of diseases, telemedicine has often been a helpful solution.  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association  describes how telecare was used to improve the care of cancer patients.   (JAMA Article) Two of the most significant problems facing these patients are handling pain and dealing with depression.

The intervention described in the article involved a centralized telemedicine program for patients located across the state of Indiana.  In this randomized trial, about 200 patients were assigned to usual care and 200 to the intervention, which involved frequent surveys regarding the patient’s condition, conducted by the internet or an IVR system, and proactive and reactive telephonic interventions by a nurse case manager.  The primary endpoints were pain and depression status, as measured by various scales.  Broader quality-of-life measures were also examined, as was self-reported health services use.

The intervention group reported significantly lower pain and less depression.  The intervention patients also reported better overall quality of life.  Patients said they used fewer hospital days and ER visits as well.  The researchers intend to follow-up with actual health service use to examine the economic outcomes of the intervention, after taking into account its cost.  This appears to be a relatively inexpensive intervention that significantly improved the quality of care and life for these patients.  Another example of how communications technology can make a difference in health care.

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