VA’s National Oncology Program (NOP) has continued to expand telehealth options for Veterans needing cancer care through the National TeleOncology Program (NTO).
NTO delivers screenings, diagnostics, and treatment for medical oncology – including rehabilitation and palliative care – which improves access and outcomes for Veterans.
Every year, approximately 50,000 Veterans are diagnosed with cancer by VA. According to an American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) workforce report, 66 percent of rural counties have no oncologist. Veterans in these counties will face issues accessing care due to a lack of cancer providers in their local area. Through TeleOncology, cancer care providers can reach these Veterans regardless of where they are located.
At the close of 2021, 13 VA Medical Centers supported and helped deliver patient care via TeleOncology. These VA Medical Centers are strategically embedded across the United States. By using a “hub-and-spoke” model of care – where the virtual TeleOncology “hub” provides resources and staff support for “spoke” sites located across the country – VA is uniquely situated to reach Veterans in rural areas who may struggle to access care on-site.
Dr. Garth Strobehn is located at the Ann Arbor VA Medical Center, but provides virtual care to patients in Miami, Florida, and Fargo, North Dakota.
“I really enjoy working at multiple sites of care all over the country,” Strobehn said. “Collaboration with on the ground staff ensures a successful visit for Veterans.”
Expanding access to Specialized Care Teams to improve outcomes
In 2021, NTO grew to 20 hematology/oncology physicians supporting Veterans and their cancer journeys across the nation. These highly specialized oncologists provide best-in-class care and are associated with National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers. As part of this expansion, NTO also set up seven separate disease-specific teams to support subspecialized cancer clinics for the following cancer types:
- Malignant hematology
- Head and neck
- Benign hematology
- Rare cancers
The disease-specific NTO teams include physicians, an advanced practice provider, a Clinical Pharmacy provider, and a nurse care coordinator. Each of these professionals play a unique and important role in a Veteran’s cancer journey. By standing up these specialized teams, NTO is ensuring cutting-edge, consistent, and best-in-class oncology care for Veterans.
COVID-19 and continuing to deliver excellent cancer care
As COVID-19 continues to be front-of-mind for all health care professionals, NTO has been uniquely positioned to continue delivering excellent cancer care.
In 2021, NTO served just over 1,400 patients across the country. Most importantly, of those 1,400, almost 900 of them were in rural areas where access to oncology care is scarce and the ongoing pandemic has stressed the local health care systems.
“Cancer patients are especially vulnerable when going through treatment, because their immune systems are compromised – so leveraging the expanded NTO network has been critically important to keeping patients safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gina McWhirter, MBA, MSN, RN, and director of National TeleOncology at VHA. “Further, a major function of NTO has been helping patients stay on track with their treatments.”
Curious about the NTO and your care?
For more information on how VA works shoulder-to-shoulder with strategic partners to expand access and reduce barriers to cancer care for Veterans across the nation, please visit cancer.va.gov, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.