Moffitt Cancer Center sees increase in virtual visits during pandemic

The American Cancer Society recently released its annual statistics report, which showed that overall cancer mortality has dropped by 33% since 1991.

The report points to more screenings, advances in treatment, and behavioral changes as contributing factors to the overall decline. 

During the pandemic, providers had to develop more ways to continue that high level of care when patients couldn’t physically get to them.

Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa established a Department of Virtual Medicine to help with this effort. It expanded on previous telehealth services offered.

"We started virtual care for about a year and a half before the pandemic started, but we did a pretty significant ramp-up in our virtual care. It went up by about 5,000% in a span of about two weeks," Dr. Philippe Spiess, the medical director of virtual care at Moffitt, said.

READ: Sister of 12-year-old cancer patient donates bone marrow for potentially life-saving transplant

Moffitt researchers conducted a study to determine just how much time and money was saved from telehealth services. They analyzed 25,496 virtual cancer care visits with 11,688 patients living in Florida between April 2020 and June 2021.

They found a key takeaway was the cost of travel and time saved due to medical visits.

"We know that when patients are seeking cancer treatment, that could mean not only getting to the appointment but also forgoing their other employment opportunities or cost opportunity that's present," Dr. Krupal Patel, a head and neck surgeon, said.

The results of the study showed a total savings of 3,789,963 travel miles and an average estimated cost savings per visit ranged between $147.40 to $186.10.

While not the best fit for every patient, doctors say the virtual visits open the door for patients to see multiple physicians, get a second opinion or other screenings from the comfort of their home.

"We can go over the pathology, we could do a wound check, sometimes virtually. We could avoid them having to get in their cars, having to come to the hospital," Spiess said.

Moffitt says it will continue to expand the telemedicine services and will look for ways to use it for clinical trials to further cancer research and treatment.