Oncology Rounds

How Dignity Health keeps patients connected to telegenetics—during and beyond Covid-19

by Emily Heuser and Mallory Kirby

Covid-19 ground routine cancer screening and risk assessments to a halt. As a result, many programs are concerned about delayed detection of cancers, which could be exacerbated over the next few months by patients' reluctance to come into health care facilities. Dignity Health has leveraged their virtual genetic counseling services and long-standing partnership with CancerIQ, a genetic cancer risk assessment platform, to continue screening patients for their genetic risk of cancer—a strategy that not only supports patients during the Covid-19 pandemic but will continue to maximize staff efficiencies as "non-essential" services ramp back up.

The 'new normal': 7 questions cancer program leaders are asking about care amid Covid-19

Background

Digital genetic cancer risk assessment platforms can help provider organizations rapidly take their in-person offerings virtual. For example, CancerIQ has a full range of services designed to streamline the process from pre-test counseling to post-test patient follow-up, including pre-counseling surveys to collect family histories and online patient-facing education materials. Additional platforms that help support these processes in genetic counseling include Progeny and GeneMatters. Some major benefits of these virtual services include helping reduce administrative time for genetic counseling, providing ongoing risk management support even outside of a pandemic, and helping providers continue to support patient care in a time when almost everything is going virtual.

We spoke with Dignity Health to learn more about how virtual risk assessment programs can support a tele-genetic counseling strategy.

How Dignity Health uses a cancer risk assessment platform to support tele-genetic counseling

Dignity Health was in a unique position at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, given that its oncology genetic counseling team was almost entirely remote to begin with. The health system, which has offered virtual tele-genetic counseling services since 2017, explained the benefits of this strategy both before and during the current pandemic.

Engaging patients remotely

Dignity Health cites improved patient access and engagement as the biggest benefit of its tele-genetics approach.

According to Dignity Health, CancerIQ helps the health system engage patients prior to the genetic counseling session through a pre-visit survey and educational materials that are available online. The pre-visit survey is beneficial to both patients and Dignity Health's genetic counselors. That's because it gives patients more time to think through answers, collect health information, and consult with other family members on their family cancer history—and reduces the amount of time providers spend discussing  family history to verify information to about five minutes. The Dignity Health team says it's key to use a patient-friendly survey interface to make it easier to successfully collect necessary information from patients before an appointment.

Reduced administrative time

While tele-genetic counseling has enabled Dignity Health to expand patient access, the health system said its partnership with CancerIQ helps it work more efficiently by reducing both the pre-work and the appointment time per patient. Dignity Health estimates that the information gathered through the CancerIQ patient survey saves its team about 15 minutes per appointment—and populates patient answers into a digital pedigree that saves additional administrative time.

Seamless communication between genetic counselors and providers

The time-saving features of a virtual platform make it easy to share results across the Dignity Health cancer team and help the genetic counseling team inform treatment decisions even while remote. The platform gives the team a customizable template for note taking, where they can plug in information during their time with a patient and export from the CancerIQ platform as a complete, concise report to send back to referring providers via the health system's EHR.

Tele-genetic counseling was already a valuable option for cancer programs prior to Covid-19—as the Oncology Roundtable has highlighted before, genetic counseling is the service our members are most likely to provide virtually. For programs that did not already have this up and running, now can be a great time to innovate with strategies that help your providers continue to offer genetic counseling services and potentially get ahead of a patient backlog further down the road.

Managing patient risk from afar

In addition to helping genetic counseling programs improve provider efficiency, a digital platform can be a useful tool for maintaining engagement with high-risk patients who may otherwise fall through the cracks, which is more important now than ever before amid significant disruptions to health care delivery. Several health systems have incorporated CancerIQ resources into phone screenings, email campaigns, and web marketing that helps them continue to connect patients to genetic counseling and virtual high-risk management tools.

How Covid-19 is transforming telehealth—now and in the future

Covid-19 has transformed telehealth from a “nice-to-have” program into an essential element of care delivery. Parallel demands to limit patient travel, prevent potential exposure, and preserve clinical capacity all have telehealth as a solution.

Download our deck to get the latest updates on the current state of the telehealth market and how Covid-19 will impact the future of telehealth.

Get the Slides