Telemedicine Use for Chemo Education in Rural Setting

A poster presented during the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress discussed the implementation of telemedicine to provide chemotherapy education to patients and their caregivers at a rural institution during COVID-19.

“Logan Health is located in the Northwestern part of the United States in Montana, and we are a rural cancer program. Our nurses do one-to-one education sessions for infusion patients starting treatment. Many of our patients traveled many miles in order to come for their treatments. Two of our closest community cancer programs are actually hundreds of miles away from us, and surrounding our hospital are critical access hospitals,” explained Leah A. Scaramuzzo, MSN, RN, MEDSURG-BC, AOCN, who presented the poster.

In light of COVID-19, in-person encounters had to be reduced significantly, particularly for immunocompromised patients. Since visitors were restricted as part of the COVID-19 policies, patients’ family members could no longer attend the chemotherapy education sessions. This created a need to share the information in a different way.

First, the team evaluated their current process, which they found to be inconsistent and contained outdated materials. They updated their content to meet current standards and reflect the literature.

“We then collaborated with our telehealth departments, our A/V media departments, as well as marketing. We updated the equipment on-site to support telehealth and train the staff in telehealth equipment, and then we finalized print materials and created a video tour of our infusion area, knowing that our patients and families would no longer be able to do a tour in person,” said Scaramuzzo.

Initially, the staff had a negative reaction to virtual teaching, concerned about how they would virtually express empathy and emotional support. Some staff also faced a learning curve when it came to becoming comfortable with the telehealth technology. But, once everyone was trained and the initiative was implemented, feedback from staff, as well as patients and their families, turned positive. The staff reported that families and patients are thankful that they can still learn from home, and patients are happy that family members—even those far away—can join in the learning sessions.

Formal evaluations, including surveys, are slated for this spring.

“Oncology nurses should really consider taking the lead to adapt similar projects, especially for those that live in rural cancer programs, where patients may be required to travel significant distances,” Scaramuzzo concluded.