What to Know About Telehealth for Leukemia

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Telehealth—a broad term that encompasses a variety of methods of virtual healthcare delivery—offers the opportunity to remotely consult with a healthcare professional.

There are many times telehealth visits are appropriate, including visits for leukemia.  

unwell mature man discussing symptoms on medical video call

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Telehealth and COVID-19

With the spread of COVID-19telehealth has become an attractive alternative to in-person healthcare appointments. While healthcare offices and clinics are taking measures to keep staff and patients safe, refraining from going to public places—unless necessary—is a good practice during a pandemic.

When to Use Telehealth for Leukemia

Telehealth visits for leukemia can be a convenient option for a visit with your cancer team. These appointments may be with various members of the team, including an oncologist, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. These types of visits may be for:

  • Discussion of treatment options
  • Treatment education visits
  • Symptom management
  • Follow-up between treatments
  • Follow-up after a treatment has ended
  • Visits with specialists, such as genetic counselors or dieticians
  • Survivorship visits

You May Need to Be Seen In Person If...

Telehealth is not the best option for every visit though. Because a full physical exam is not possible during a telehealth visit, there are times in-person visits may be required. For example:

When needing any type of treatment such as:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Monoclonal antibody therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation

When needing any type of testing, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging (CT, MRI, X-ray, PET scan)
  • Endoscopy
  • Bone marrow biopsy

If experiencing new or worsening symptoms, or if any symptom is severe. These symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Enlarging lymph nodes
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Infection
  • Night sweats
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Bone pain

Benefits and Challenges

There can be many benefits for telehealth visits, including:

  • Decreased travel: Some patients may live far away from their cancer center. Telehealth visits can allow for continued care from the oncology team without the cost of transportation.
  • Accessibility: Sometimes people experience difficulty physically getting into a car or walking long distances into the provider’s office. Telehealth visits offer an option for care that can be accessed without leaving the house. 
  • Time savings: With no time spent traveling or sitting in a waiting room, it can be much more convenient to wait in the comfort of home for a visit to start.  
  • Decreased infection risk: Visits from home reduce the risk of developing an infection from exposure to another patient who may have an illness. This may be very important for someone with decreased immune system function from their cancer treatment.
  • Cost: Some insurance companies offer reduced copays for telehealth visits. Transportation costs are also saved, and people can save money by not having to take off from work to attend a visit. 

Although there are many benefits, there can be some challenges to telehealth as well. 

  • Access issues: Having a cell phone or computer with a camera and Internet access is required for a visit with audio and video. Not all people will have the equipment necessary for a successful telehealth visit. Knowing how to use the required technology may be difficult for some people as well.
  • Technical issues: There may be times where calls are dropped or a patient or provider has problems using technology due to an outage of service or some other technical problem. These can prevent or limit the ability to perform an adequate visit. 
  • Limited physical exam: Sometimes an oncology provider will need to listen to a body system or physically observe an area that can’t be seen through a telehealth visit. This may lead to the potential of missing an important finding. 

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Leukemia

Ask your leukemia provider if a telehealth visit option may be available for you. Once a telehealth visit is scheduled, there are a few things you can do to prepare. 

Things to do before the visit include:

  • Make sure the device used for the visit, such as a phone, tablet, or computer, is powered on and fully charged or plugged in to a power source
  • Ensure connection to Internet or wireless phone service
  • Have the phone number for the provider to call back in case of disconnection
  • Test your device to make sure it’s working well
  • Find a quiet, well-lit place to sit for the visit
  • Prepare a list of questions or concerns to discuss with the provider
  • Have a family member or friend sit with you, if desired, to have another person listen and ask questions you may not have thought of

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Leukemia?

Telehealth visits are not free.

  • Insurance coverage of telehealth visits varies based on the state and federal guidelines, and the insurance company.
  • It is best to check with your insurance company prior to setting up a telehealth visit to ensure coverage.
  • If uninsured, check with the provider’s office for payment information and to see if telehealth is an option for a visit.

What Happens During a Visit

Prior to your telehealth visit, you will likely receive instructions from your provider’s office, including a link to visit their platform and any instructions to know before you start. Information on security and privacy practices should also be provided. 

To start a telehealth visit, use the link provided by your provider’s office. 

The visit may be very similar in some ways to an in-patient visit:

  • The provider may ask for vital signs if you’re able to provide them, such as recent weight, blood pressure, or heart rate.
  • The reason for your visit will be discussed (symptom management, follow-up, etc.).
  • If the provider needs to see a particular part of your body, this will be requested.
  • You will have time to discuss any questions that you have.
  • Your provider will confirm any new prescriptions or recommendations, and schedule the next follow-up. 

Telehealth Services Should Not Replace In-Person Care

Telehealth visits may be a great option for some of your leukemia care, but will not replace all of your care. Contact your cancer care team with any concerns or to find out what precautions are being taken to keep you safe.

A Word From Verywell

Telehealth visits may be a convenient option for someone with leukemia. Educational visits, symptom management, survivorship visits, or any visit that doesn’t require a detailed physical exam may be a good option for telehealth.

If you have a medical emergency or worsening symptoms, however, it is best to be seen in person. Check with your leukemia team to see if a telehealth visit is appropriate for you. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Community Oncology Alliance. Survivorship visits: COA telehealth in cancer care position statement. Updated September 24, 2020.

  2. American Cancer Society. Treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  3. American Cancer Society. How is chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosed?

  4. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

  5. National Institute on Aging. Telehealth: what is it, how to prepare, is it covered?