Implementation of Telehealth in Radiation Oncology: Rapid Integration During COVID-19 and its Future Role in our Practice.
Introduction:The widespread coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has resulted in significant changes in care delivery among radiation oncology practices and demanded the rapid incorporation of telehealth. However, the impact of a large-scale transition to telehealth in radiation oncology on patient access to care and the viability of care delivery are largely unknown. In this manuscript, we review our implementation and report data on patient access to care and billing implications. As telehealth is likely to continue after COVID-19, we propose a radiation oncology-specific algorithm for telehealth. Material and Methods:In March 2020, our department began to use telehealth for all new consults, post-treatment encounters, and follow-up appointments. Billable encounters from January to April 2020 were reviewed and categorized into one of the following visit types: in-person, telephonic, or two-way audio-video. Logistic regression models tested whether visit type differed by patient age, income, or provider. Results:There was a 35% decrease in billable activity from January to April. In-person visits decreased from 100% to 21%. Sixty percent of telehealth appointments in April were performed with two-way audio-video, and 40% by telephonic only. In-person consultation visits were associated with higher billing codes compared to two-way audio-video telehealth visits (p<0.01). No difference was seen for follow-up visits. Univariate and multivariable analysis identified that older patient age was associated with reduced likelihood of two-way audio-video encounters (p<0.01). The physician conducting the telehealth appointment was also associated with the type of visit performed (p<0.01). Patient income was not associated with the type of telehealth visit. Conclusions:Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to move the majority of patient visits to telehealth but observed inconsistent utilization of the audio-video telehealth platform. We present guidelines and quality metrics for incorporating telehealth in radiation oncology practice, based on type of encounter and disease subsite.