Oncology outpatients ‘overwhelmingly happy’ with pandemic care

Oncology patients have been overwhelmingly happy with their treatment in NSW public outpatient clinics during COVID-19, with 98% in a recent poll rating their care as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

The positive finding is based on a survey of more than 8,300 patients last November and reflects the adaptability of frontline oncology staff to the pandemic, says the NSW Bureau of Health Information.

However, in a report handed down this week, the agency said there were areas of concern, particularly around telehealth appointments, which had been used by 64% of patients surveyed in 2021.

Four-in-10 patients reported that care they had received via telehealth was not as good as in-person appointments, it said (link here).

On the other hand, 95% said the care and they received virtually did help them. Most said they would ‘definitely’ (24%) or ‘in some circumstances’ (60%) use virtual care again if given the choice.

The most frequently cited benefits of telehealth were convenience (65%) and saving time (50%).

The report added: “Patients in urban facilities and those who speak English at home tended to be more positive about their experiences of virtual care than patients in rural facilities and those who speak a language other than English.”

“Compared with patients who had only one virtual care appointment, patients who had more than five were more likely to say that virtual care benefitted them, that it was ‘better’ or ‘about the same’ as in-person appointments, and that the care and treatment received through virtual care helped them.”

Patients who spoke languages other than English also reported significantly less positive experiences across the some key measures.

For example, the report showed they were almost three times as likely to say they received conflicting information and were significantly less likely to say their care was very well organised (76%, compared with 85% of English speakers).

It comes after the AMA raised concerns about the rise in so-called ‘hidden waiting lists’ for public outpatient care across a number of specialty areas, including oncology.

NSW does not publish figures on outpatient waiting times, but Victorian data shows 18% of all public oncology patients are waiting longer than clinically recommended for an initial urgent appointment.

Meanwhile, 10% of patients in Category 3 waited longer than 251 days for their first appointment, according to the figures.

“We have to fix this,” said AMA president Professor Steve Robson last week.

“In a situation where Australia is recovering from the COVID pandemic, it’s still going on, our hospitals are in logjam, and we’re facing unprecedented pressures. We are in a situation where patients are waiting and deteriorating.”

He added: “They’re either going back to their general practitioners which is making it more and more difficult to get GP appointments and placing stress on general practitioners around the country or arriving to seek more urgent care as things get worse in an emergency department.”

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