Virtual care can complement, but not replace in-person care

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a significant shift towards virtual appointments to ensure that people are able to communicate with their doctors, limit their potential for exposure to COVID-19, and allow the healthcare system to focus on treating COVID-19 patients. However, it is important to note that virtual appointments are not limited to video calls with your doctor, and in fact encompass any communications with your doctor that do not take place in-person, such as phone calls, text messages, and e-mails.

The method a patient uses to virtually interact with their doctor has a major impact on their ability to effectively communicate their symptoms and concerns. For instance, during a phone call, a doctor may be unable to gain important information if they cannot see and interpret their patient’s body language. According to our Leger survey on the Impact of COVID-19 Crisis on Cancer Patients and their Ability to Receive Treatment – Wave 2, most virtual appointments have been phone calls, which means that patients are unable to visually communicate their symptoms to their doctors or receive physical examinations.

Although there is a limit to how effective virtual appointments can be, they can ensure that cancer patients are able to receive some care as we deal with a strained healthcare system. Of those who had virtual appointments with a GP during the pandemic, 91 per cent of patients, 80 per cent of caregivers, and 77 per cent of those waiting for a cancer diagnosis were satisfied with their interactions. Despite the fact that there was a significant increase in in-person interactions, from 30 percent during wave 1 to 60 per cent during wave 2, virtual appointments still seem to be the preferred method for the time being. This is in part due to concerns of patients that they will contract COVID-19 in a hospital setting, especially since many cancer patients are immunocompromised. Additionally, the difficulty with scheduling appointments in the first place can make the efficiency of virtual appointments more appealing.

The option of virtual appointments can reduce the number of trips that cancer patients have to make to clinics and hospitals and can be useful for short conversations and the delivery of test results. However, virtual care cannot fully substitute in-person care as there are important tests, procedures, and treatments that can only be administered by a doctor or in a hospital or cancer centre setting. In particular, timely diagnostic tests are necessary for those awaiting confirmation of a cancer diagnosis so that they have the best chance of recovery.