“Meeting” With Your Doctor Virtually During COVID-19

Pictoral representation of telemedicine visit

Going through treatment for cancer is almost like having a fulltime job. Patients can have multiple appointments, and it is not uncommon for some patients to have three or more visits a week. Given the current pandemic, every time a healthcare provider asks a patient to come in for an appointment, they’re making a mental calculation of the risk and benefit. Utilizing telemedicine has allowed providers at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) to keep patients safely sheltered at home, while continuing to provide their necessary care.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, MSK was utilizing telemedicine to provide genetic counseling, psychiatry, and supportive care services. We’ve now expanded to offering telemedicine visits for many more types of appointments.

A telemedicine visit is when your healthcare provider uses technology to care for you without you having to travel to their office. During your visit, you and your healthcare provider will see and talk with each other using a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Your healthcare provider will be able to check how you’re doing, diagnose any problems you have, and come up with a treatment plan for you all by video. If needed, your healthcare provider may ask you to move a part of your body, so they can see how well you move or if you have pain.

Telemedicine visits with MSK are secure and meet the strict standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Your video won’t be recorded or saved. This means your privacy is protected just like all your visits with your healthcare providers. In fact, some of the apps people use to videochat with their family and friends also happen to be quite secure. FaceTime and WhatsApp are also considered HIPAA compliant for use in telemedicine.

Insurance companies are also embracing telemedicine. Previously, Medicare and Medicaid would only cover telemedicine visits for care provided in a designated rural area or certain healthcare facilities. Some private insurance companies covered telemedicine services as they would a face-to-face visit at a reduced rate. With the COVID-19 crisis, Centers for Medicare and Medicare issued a waiver that relaxed the rules governing telemedicine and reimbursement for these visits. Now they’re essentially treating telemedicine visits similar to face-to-face visits and allowing these visits to occur across state lines and in patient’s homes. Typically, private insurers follow Medicare guidelines.

Dr. Reggie Saldivar

Dr. Reggie Saldivar

Dr. Reggie Saldivar, MD, Director of Telehealth for the Supportive Care Service at MSK, is excited that the healthcare world is embracing telemedicine more. “I believe that the jump to utilize telemedicine in the middle of this pandemic will lead us to rethink what things we should continue to do in-person versus what things we can now do remotely. Most patients will not miss their chemotherapy appointments, but if you’re not feeling well it’s sometimes easy to just cancel your other appointments. Telemedicine will allow you to keep your appointments even if you’re not feeling your best because you can always stay in bed to talk to your doctor,” said Dr. Saldivar.

In addition, MSK has shifted some of our education and support groups to an online format through Virtual Programs. This includes all Resources for Life After Cancer programs as well as other support groups, including our caregiver and bereavement groups.

Talk with your MSK healthcare provider about whether a telemedicine visit is an option for you. Learn more about telemedicine at: https://www.mskcc.org/telemedicine