Just 5% of patients with lung cancer were offered video consultations during the first wave of COVID-19

A new report, Virtual consultations in the lung cancer pathway, has been published by Lung Cancer Nursing UK, The British Thoracic Oncology Group (BTOG), The UK Lung Cancer Coalition, and The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. The publication examines patients’ and healthcare professionals’ perspectives on the increased use of remote consultations in response to COVID-19.

Despite a huge increase in virtual consultations during the first wave of the pandemic, the report found that video was used in just 5% of consultations with patients with lung cancer. Of the patients surveyed for the report, 69% stated that they had not been given a choice between telephone or video consultations.

Of the healthcare professionals surveyed:

  • 51% stated that they were not using video for patient consultations at all
  • 76% said that they had not received any training or guidance on delivering virtual appointments
  • 65% reported that a lack of computer equipment to hold video consultations was a regular problem
  • 70% felt that video consultations were less convenient for them—although 75% acknowledged that they were more convenient for patients.

The barriers to the adoption of video consultations cited by healthcare professionals in the report include the inability to share visual material with patients, greater difficulty of spotting a change in a patient’s condition, and lack of quiet, private meeting spaces in hospitals in which to conduct video consultations.

The report makes the following recommendations, intended to improve the use of and develop best-practice tools for remote consultations, both for lung cancer services and the wider NHS:

  • further research is needed into the use of virtual consultations involving patients who do not have computer access, or feel confident in using computers, to ensure that health inequalities are not being exacerbated
  • healthcare professionals should be provided with training to support both communication and technical aspects involved in the delivery of virtual consultations
  • given the often late-stage diagnosis of lung cancer and the urgency associated with this, there is a need for lung cancer-specific best-practice guidelines that go beyond current general clinical guidance for the management of remote consultations
  • resource will be needed if NHS trusts are to invest in the technology needed to make virtual consultations an integral part of the patient pathway.

Regarding the report’s findings, Professor Sanjay Popat, Consultant Thoracic Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Chair of the BTOG Steering Committee, said: ‘This survey exposes some of the huge infrastructure changes that need to happen to make video consultations workable long-term in both secondary and tertiary lung cancer care settings.’