The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an exponential increase in telehealth. In response to the pandemic, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) and its Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) closed non-essential in-person services on March 17, 2020 and began reopening on April 27, 2020. We examined outpatient telehealth utilization at D-HH and NCCC in the peri-pandemic period and compared utilization to the Academic Medical Center (AMC) overall and to other service lines. Weekly outpatient volumes, percentage telehealth, percentage video versus audio-only, and percentage of new patients were examined for D-HH, for the AMC, and for selected AMC-based service lines from January 1 to October 31, 2020. Compared with the AMC overall and with five other primarily non-surgical specialties, oncology was lower in the (1) proportion of outpatient visits performed via telehealth (example week 7/12/20: oncology = 11%; AMC = 21%; mean of 5 other specialties = 38%) and (2) percentage of telehealth involving video versus audio-only (7/12/20: oncology = 19%; AMC = 58%; mean of 5 others = 60%). Oncology more closely resembled the surgical specialty of orthopedics (7/12/20: 2% telehealth; 10% of telehealth involved video). Oncology also demonstrated (1) a high proportion of outpatient visits involving procedures (oncology = 22%; orthopedics = 12%) and (2) no difference between telehealth and in-person visits in terms of the percentage involving new patients. During the peri-pandemic period, our oncology service demonstrated a lower than average incorporation of telehealth overall into their outpatient practice and a lower proportion of telehealth performed by video. Further understanding these results and the drivers behind them will be integral for redesigning outpatient oncology care with optimal integration of telehealth.
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