Delivering virtual cancer rehabilitation programming during the first 90 days of the COVID-19 pandemic: A multimethod study

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2021 Feb 19;S0003-9993(21)00155-6. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2021.02.002. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To describe the adaptations made to implement virtual cancer rehabilitation at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as understand the experiences of patients and providers adapting to virtual care.

Design: Multimethod study.

Setting: Cancer Centre.

Participants: Adult cancer survivors and oncology health care providers.

Interventions: Not applicable.

Main outcome measures: Framework-driven categorization of program modifications, qualitative interviews with patients and providers, and a comparison of process outcomes with the previous 90 days of in-person care via referrals, completed visits and attendance, method of delivery, weekly capacities, and wait times.

Results: The majority of program visits could be adapted to virtual delivery, with format, setting, and content modifications. Virtual care demonstrated an increase or maintenance in the number of completed visits by appointment type compared to in-person care, with attendance ranging from 80-93%. For most appointment types, capacities increased, while wait times decreased slightly. Overall, 168 patients (11% of all assessments and follow-ups) assessed virtually were identified by providers as requiring an in-person appointment due to re-assessment of musculoskeletal and/or neurological impairment (n=109, 65%) and lymphedema (n=59, 35%). The interviews (n=24) revealed that virtual care was an acceptable alternative in some circumstances, with the ability to: 1) increase access to care; 2) provide a sense of reassurance during a time of isolation; and 3) provide confidence in learning skills to self-manage impairments.

Conclusions: Many appointments can be successfully adapted to virtual formats to deliver cancer rehabilitation programming. Based on our findings, we provide practical recommendations that can be implemented by providers and programs to facilitate the adoption and delivery of virtual care.

Keywords: Telemedicine; cancer survivors; neoplasms; rehabilitation.