Methods: Rural cancer survivors (n=66) completed an online survey regarding the transition and delivery of health and support services via telehealth during COVID-19 and their preferences for telehealth in the future. Data was collected as part of a bi-annual survey on client satisfaction at a rural/regional community cancer wellness center in Australia.
Results: Participants included 71% females and 29% males with 48% younger survivors (under 64 years), and 52% older survivors (65 years and over). Only 2 participants identified as Indigenous. Participants had a diverse range of cancer types, with the most common being breast (n=30), prostrate (n=7), gastrointestinal (n=6), lung (n=4), melanoma (n=3), gynecologic (n=3), and lymphoma (n=3). Nearly 40% of participants were currently undergoing treatment for a new diagnosis or a recurrence.
Findings revealed that younger participants were significantly more likely to use allied health services via video/telehealth during COVID-19 compared to their older counterparts (x2=7.94; p<.005). Findings further revealed that the preferred format for nursing health services in the future was face-to-face (59% for younger participants and 42% for older) telehealth (10% for both groups), and mixed (31% for younger participants and 48% for older participants). Although not statistically significant (p>.05), it is interesting that the older cohort had a greater preference for a mixed modality of face-to-face and telehealth in meeting their future health service needs.
Conclusions and Implications: Rural and regional cancer patients do not generally have access to multidisciplinary cancer care centers to provide health and supportive care close to home. Telehealth has significant benefits for the delivery of health and supportive services to rural/regional cancer patients. Social workers can play a key role in assessing the support needs of cancer survivors and facilitating strategies to ensure that survivors and their families have the skills necessary to access virtual support and health services.