NCI sets aside $23m to research telehealth in cancer care

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US has said it will make $23 million available to four academic institutions over the next five years to study the role of telehealth for cancer patients.

The academic institutions will investigate how telehealth can be deployed ” from prevention to screening and diagnosis to treatment and survivorship,” said the agency, with each becoming a  Telehealth Research Centre of Excellence (TRACE) for one aspect of the programme.

“During the pandemic, the use and availability of telehealth skyrocketed in primary and specialty care, including cancer care,” said NCI in a statement. “However, little is understood about how best to use and sustain telehealth in providing cancer-related care.”

NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City will focus on how social factors like race and ethnicity, poverty, and rural residence will affect the delivery of telehealth care, while Northwestern University in Illinois will look at helping cancer survivors reduce risk behaviours like smoking or a sedentary lifestyle.

The University of Pennsylvania will carry out studies to compare the effectiveness of telehealth strategies on shared decision-making for lung cancer screening, and to speed up access to molecular testing, while New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre will test a remote monitoring system called MSK@Home for patients receiving systemic treatments for prostate and breast cancer.

Trials will be carried out by the four centres in hospitals, cancer centres, oncology practices and primary care offices, and all will also examine how to address disparities among cancer patients trying to access telehealth, including those with limited digital literacy.

The programme is being supported by the Cancer Moonshot, a White House initiative first unveiled by the Obama administration in 2016 and taken forward by President Joe Biden this year which aims to find new ways to improve the treatment and care of people with cancer.

“One of the Cancer Moonshot goals is to make the cancer experience less burdensome for patients and their families and caregivers,” according to Katrina Goddard, director of the NCI’s division of cancer control and population sciences.

“We are awarding these centres of excellence to better understand how telehealth can contribute to improved health outcomes across the cancer care continuum,” she said.

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