Telehealth For Cancer Care Receives $23 Million Research Funding Boost

The NIH has awarded funding to create four new research centers which will look at the use of … [+] telehealth approaches for cancer care.

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The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will award funding to conduct research into the use of telehealth for cancer care by creating four new “Telehealth Research Centers of Excellence.”

Telehealth is a broad term used to describe healthcare provided by clinical staff remotely using electronic means, including phone calls, email, text messages or video conferencing. It has been around in some form for decades, but until recently its use was mostly confined to specific medical disciplines such as mental healthcare.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with increasing accessibility of internet and various video and web-based calling apps, meant that telehealth approaches exploded in popularity and use, with approaches even being used in cancer care. Organizations quickly adapted to publish guidelines on best practices of telehealth use in cancer care, but due to the fairly recent implementation of telehealth in some aspects of care, little is currently known about how well it works or how to create sustainable integration of telehealth for patients with cancer.

“One of the Cancer Moonshot goals is to make the cancer experience less burdensome for patients and their families and caregivers,” said Katrina Goddard, Ph.D., director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS). “We are awarding these centers of excellence to better understand how telehealth can contribute to improved health outcomes across the cancer care continuum,” Goddard added.

The scheme is being supported by the Cancer Moonshot initiative which was first launched in 2016 by Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden before Biden was elected President. The scheme has since been re-started by President Biden to increase progress in cancer research and care.

One of the institutions awarded funding to establish a Cancer Telehealth Research Center of Excellence is the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“For patients undergoing screening or treatment for cancer, advances in telehealth propelled by the Covid-19 pandemic could be tremendously beneficial, yet telehealth strategies must address the digital divide so as not to also exacerbate known disparities in cancer outcomes,” said Katharine Rendle, PhD, an assistant professor of Family Medicine and Community Health and co-leader of the newly funded center at UPenn.

Telehealth has long been championed as a way to reduce disparities in healthcare including in cancer care, with the hope that the remote nature of the services would increase accessibility. However some studies done during the pandemic have suggested that telehealth use has actually widened disparities in the provision of cancer care, rather than addressed them. This will be a key area of focus for the four newly established centers.

“We aim not only to ensure equal access to telehealth but also to use it in ways that reduce persistent barriers to care in order to transform how we deliver cancer care today,” said Rendle.

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