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  • Author: Thomas M. Atkinson x
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Narek Shaverdian, Erin F. Gillespie, Elaine Cha, Soo Young Kim, Stephanie Benvengo, Fumiko Chino, Jung Julie Kang, Yuelin Li, Thomas M. Atkinson, Nancy Lee, Charles M. Washington, Oren Cahlon, and Daniel R. Gomez

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed cancer care with the rapid expansion of telemedicine, but given the limited use of telemedicine in oncology, concerns have been raised about the quality of care being delivered. We assessed the patient experience with telemedicine in routine radiation oncology practice to determine satisfaction, quality of care, and opportunities for optimization. Patients and Methods: Patients seen within a multistate comprehensive cancer center for prepandemic office visits and intrapandemic telemedicine visits in December 2019 through June 2020 who completed patient experience questionnaires were evaluated. Patient satisfaction between office and telemedicine consultations were compared, patient visit-type preferences were assessed, and factors associated with an office visit preference were determined. Results: In total, 1,077 patients were assessed (office visit, n=726; telemedicine, n=351). The telemedicine-consult survey response rate was 40%. No significant differences were seen in satisfaction scores between office and telemedicine consultations, including the appointment experience versus expectation, quality of physician’s explanation, and level of physician concern and friendliness. Among telemedicine survey respondents, 45% and 34% preferred telemedicine and office visits, respectively, and 21% had no preference for their visit type. Most respondents found their confidence in their physician (90%), understanding of the treatment plan (88%), and confidence in their treatment (87%) to be better or no different than with an office visit. Patients with better performance status and who were married/partnered were more likely to prefer in-person office visit consultations (odds ratio [OR], 1.04 [95% CI, 1.00–1.08]; P=.047, and 2.41 [95% CI, 1.14–5.47]; P=.009, respectively). Patients with telephone-only encounters were more likely to report better treatment plan understanding with an office visit (OR, 2.25; 95% CI, 1.00–4.77; P=.04). Conclusions: This study is the first to assess telemedicine in routine radiation oncology practice, and found high patient satisfaction and confidence in their care. Optimization of telemedicine in oncology should be a priority, specifically access to audiovisual capabilities that can improve patient–oncologist communication.