Study: Outpatients Prefer Palliative Telehealth over Clinic Visits

Patients with advanced cancer prefer to receive palliative care via telehealth rather than visiting a clinic, a recent study has found.

During the pandemic, 67% of 200 surveyed cancer patients said they favored telehealth over clinics. After the public health emergency ended, 61% of those patients still maintained a preference for virtual care, according to the research published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

“Few studies have examined patient preferences for telehealth in palliative care after the availability of COVID-19 vaccines,” researchers indicated. “We examined patient preferences for video versus in-person visits and factors contributing to preferences in the post-vaccine era.”

Among the factors contributing to these results was the convenience of telehealth. Patients also appreciated its cost-effectiveness and reduced wait times. During the pandemic, many also worry about contracting COVID-19 during in-person encounters.

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded health care providers’ ability to deliver care via telehealth, including hospices and palliative care providers. Since then, virtual services have boomed.

However, those flexibilities are currently slated to expire on Dec. 31, 2024, leaving those providers in limbo over whether or not they can continue those services.

This week, the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee held a hearing to markup a new bill that would extend those flexibilities through the end of 2026.

Ensuring access to telehealth is a “realistic response” to providers and consumers needs, according to a statement on the bill from Katie Smith-Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge.

“Telehealth is the new normal approach for delivering so much of care today,” Smith-Sloan said in the statement. “From the authorization of audio-only communications platforms to continuation of flexibilities for Medicare providers and recipients regarding mental health services and origination sites, this bill, if enacted, would bring efficiency and greater access for older adults in need of care and supports.”