What to Know About Telehealth for Colon Cancer

Virtual appointments are helpful for managing cancer

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

The coronavirus pandemic has led to greater availability of telehealth services for conditions including colon cancer. Aspects of colon cancer treatment that can be done via telehealth include receiving information about chemotherapy, nutrition, resuming regular activities after surgery, and mental health support for patients and caregivers.

Doctors’ offices are taking precautions to see patients safely in person, but if you’re more comfortable staying home, telehealth is now a viable option. Some aspects of care for colon cancer, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and lab work, will need to take place in person.

Some of the healthcare team members that a person living with colon cancer might see via telehealth include a gastroenterologist, a colorectal surgeon, a dietitian, and a mental health professional.

Woman on a telemedicine call with her doctor.

FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

When to Use Telehealth for Colon Cancer

The management of cancer can be disruptive and time consuming, but research has shown that telehealth can lower the burden. A telehealth appointment could be used in the management and treatment of colon cancer for a number of reasons.

In addition, it’s worth considering the touchpoints in the cancer journey that are not with a doctor that could be addressed through the use of telehealth.

  • Prescription refills or new prescriptions: When a medication needs refilling, it is sometimes a good time to check in with a healthcare provider to ensure that everything is going well with that drug. Or, if a new medication is being prescribed, a healthcare professional can meet with a patient via telehealth to explain dosing, potential adverse effects, and answer any questions.
  • Lab work results: Blood work testing is common in the management of colon cancer. While the blood will need to be taken in person, when the results come in a few days later, they can be reviewed via a telehealth appointment. A nurse or other healthcare professional may be available to explain the results of blood work and what it might mean for treatment decisions via telehealth, rather than going into the clinic for a face-to-face visit.
  • Genetic counseling: One part of cancer care is meeting with a genetic counselor. This often involves going over one’s own medical history, as well as providing information about family history. These appointments can get into a lot of detail, but they can be done via telehealth because any testing that’s needed in person can be done prior to the appointment.

You May Need to Be Seen In Person If…

Some appointments for colon cancer treatment will need to be done in person, such as receiving chemotherapy infusions, getting lab work done, or having a post-surgical checkup.

Not every symptom can be addressed during a telehealth visit, however; some symptoms can be a sign that in-person treatment is needed. Potential reasons that an urgent or emergency department visit might be needed for colon cancer include:

Benefits and Challenges

There are both benefits and drawbacks to receiving care for colon cancer via telehealth. Some people diagnosed with colon cancer may find that a blend of both in-person and virtual appointments can work well for ongoing treatment.

Some of the benefits of telehealth include getting medical appointments taken care of without the need to drive, park, or walk long distances. This can be especially helpful for those who have mobility issues or need to rely on others to accompany them to an appointment.

For those who are post-surgical or experiencing side effects of chemotherapy or other treatment, being able to check in with healthcare providers from home will lower stress and help keep up with appointments.

Telehealth might also be an option for those who don’t have health insurance or access to care, as some telehealth appointments may cost less for those who are paying out of pocket.

For colon cancer, however, it may be more challenging to find the specialized care that’s needed. It may be worth talking to members of the healthcare team so that they can recommend ways to use telehealth visits to make medical care more affordable.

Some of the drawbacks of telehealth can include technological and privacy issues. Finding a place in the home that is private and quiet enough for an appointment via a video call might be a challenge for some people.

For others, accessing all of the technology needed to attend a call may also be challenging. Telehealth appointments might require a computer or a smartphone with video capabilities and a reliable internet connection.

Telehealth can, however, include voice phone calls, which may be easier for those who don’t have access to the technology that’s needed for video conferencing.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Colon Cancer

Treatment for colon cancer may involve several different kinds of practitioners. If a telehealth option is not offered outright by a provider, be sure to ask if it is an option for any upcoming touchpoints. 

You may also be asked to give formal written or verbal consent for the telehealth visit before it starts. You have the right to refuse to participate in services delivered via telehealth and ask for a face-to-face visit.

Getting ready for a telehealth appointment may mean filling out several different types of documents and downloading software. The healthcare provider’s office should give instructions on filling out the forms and how to download the software.

It’s key that these items are in place to have a telehealth appointment that is private and secure. Practicing with the software before the appointment is helpful, if it’s an option. Understanding how to use it will prevent technical issues and loss of your appointment time.

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Colon Cancer?

Telehealth has become easier to access during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and insurance coverage has been expanded. Insurance coverage may change after the emergency is over, as may the rates at which insurance pays healthcare providers.

Check with insurance carriers about telehealth coverage by calling the phone number or using the website on the back of your insurance card.

Finding a good place to take a telehealth appointment is also important. This can mean finding a quiet room away from others and removing distractions if at all possible. Not being interrupted or overheard by others will help patients be more comfortable and get any important issues discussed.

Calling from a car or a public place such as a library isn’t the best option, but can be used if that’s what is available. A pair of headphones can be especially helpful in these situations. Be sure to let the provider know about these issues during the appointment.

In some cases, it may be helpful to use video conferencing to show a healthcare provider medication bottles or to have them talk to a caregiver. Sometimes, such as with a dietician, it can also help to video conference from the kitchen, where it’s easier to talk about diet and show the provider the space where food is prepared.

Bright lighting can help show a provider what a rash looks like, for instance, or a surgical site. Sending pictures via the patient portal, email, or text ahead of the appointment may also be an option and will give the provider a better look.

What Happens During the Visit

Before starting the visit, you may be asked to acknowledge the fact that you understand the limitations of a telemedicine visit, including the inability to do a full medical exam, possibly missing subtle findings that might have been obvious during an in-person visit.

Still, a telehealth visit may be quite similar to an in-person visit. The healthcare practitioner will go over your health history, including any medication additions or other changes since the last visit.

A physical exam won’t be possible, but in some cases the practitioner may ask a patient if they can, for instance, take their own temperature or tell if their abdomen is bloated or distended. If there is a recent surgical site, or if the visit is to discuss, for instance, a skin condition, the practitioner may ask to see the area of concern.

At the end of the visit, any new medications will be prescribed or medication changes made. Future visits, including both telehealth and in-person visits, should be planned. In some cases, a referral might also be needed to see another physician or a mental health professional or dietician for follow-up care.

Colon cancer patients often report that they need more support before receiving chemotherapy and after. A telehealth appointment is a good opportunity to get those questions answered.

A Word From Verywell

Telehealth visits are new to many patients. A diagnosis of colon cancer is already difficult and comes with new emotions and roles regarding dealing with the healthcare system. One way of coping with the many physician appointments needed to manage colon cancer is to take advantage of telehealth visits.

Most people are not used to seeing a doctor via a video call, but it can help provide excellent care when appropriate. Some providers indicate that they can spend more time with patients this way and can see their patients’ families and home life, which may help inform care.

In-person visits will continue to be needed for many aspects of colon cancer care. Still, telehealth could mean getting more information about colon cancer, more inclusive care, and being able to see a doctor or other healthcare professional in a more timely manner when needed.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cox A, Lucas G, Marcu A, et al. Cancer survivors' experience with telehealth: a systematic review and thematic synthesis. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19:e11. doi:10.2196/jmir.6575

  2. Kotronoulas G, Papadopoulou C, Burns-Cunningham K, Simpson M, Maguire R. A systematic review of the supportive care needs of people living with and beyond cancer of the colon and/or rectum. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2017;29:60-70. doi:10.1016/j.ejon.2017.05.004

  3. den Bakker CM, Schaafsma FG, Huirne JAF, et al. Cancer survivors' needs during various treatment phases after multimodal treatment for colon cancer - is there a role for eHealth? BMC Cancer. 2018;18:1207. doi:10.1186/s12885-018-5105-z

Additional Reading

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.