As Americans continue to self-quarantine, public life seems to have reached a total halt. People are staying inside their homes and avoiding human-to-human interaction in a collective effort to “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19. However, many people’s health depends on regular doctors’ visits and routine medical treatment, especially those with prostate cancer. Because of this, leaders in the medical field are advocating for telemedicine now more than ever.
“Certainly, telemedicine and telehealth have exploded because of the need to reduce patients coming to the office,” Dr. Jonathan Rubenstein of Chesapeake Urology told ZERO. “This pandemic has been one of the biggest shocks to medical practices in any of our lifetimes.”
Telemedicine is the practice of medicine through technology, most commonly taking the form of a video call between patient and practitioner. According to Dr. Rubenstein, it’s the best way to get medical consultation without putting yourself and others at risk. He also shared that the number of patients coming into his office has been reduced dramatically.
“Right now telecommunication is the primary way of practicing medicine during this current pandemic.”
Dr. Rubenstein shared, “As opposed to just a phone call, which is really quite limiting, video-based teleservices are a much more intimate experience: seeing somebody face-to-face and getting their visual cues, seeing how patients respond to things, etc.”
In lieu of in-person visits, telemedicine allows patients to keep in close contact with their providers without having to compromise on quarantine mandates. While an online consultation cannot fulfill all medical needs, such as physical examinations or chemotherapy, it’s a great place to get an initial consultation from the safety of one’s own home. Then, next steps can be determined as needed. Practices such as Chesapeake Urology are still open for urgent cases where an in-person treatment may be necessary. Dr. Rubenstein also said his practice is committed to staying open to serve those who simply prefer face-to-face healthcare.
Dr. Rubenstein pointed out that telemedicine is “actually a lot more convenient for some patients … It can be a big deal to visit the doctor in person.” Through a televisit, a doctor is still able to make prescriptions, order labs or X-rays, or answer any questions that they would in person. Telehealth eliminates the hassle — and during this pandemic, the risk — of visiting a busy doctor’s office.
In order to make telemedicine an option for everyone, as of April 1st, Medicare covers all telehealth services, including video calls as well as telephone calls between patients and providers.
“Insurers do realize that people still require health care even outside of coronavirus related healthcare,” Dr. Rubenstein said. “Whether or not a prostate cancer patient has advanced disease, early stage disease, elevated PSA, is on active surveillance, or the whole gamut of the prostate cancer continuum, all those patients still need to be treated. They shouldn’t be pushed off months down the road.”
“That’s why the expansion of telehealth services has become really helpful for patients and for providers. We can continue with the care of our patients, even if we don’t need to see people face to face.”
Despite the very real fears that COVID-19 poses for cancer patients, now is the opportunity for patients to continue to communicate with their providers. The utilization of telemedicine can help save lives by preventing the spread of coronavirus, as well as giving cancer patients an option for effective communication practices. Rubenstein concluded, “We don’t want to lose a single patient, no matter what stage of prostate cancer they are at.”