National Institutes of Health Awards $23 Million to Establish Centers of Excellence to Study Telehealth for Cancer Care

The 4 academic centers will evaluate the role of telehealth in areas such as prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services became a vital service to allow patients to access much needed care. To further bolster these services among patients with cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is awarding $23 million to 4 academic institutions to establish centers of excellence, which will conduct research on the role of telehealth in delivering cancer-related health care.

The award supports the NCI’s Telehealth Research Centers of Excellence (TRACE) initiative and will be distributed over 5 years, pending availability of funds. This award is also being supported by the Cancer Moonshot initiative, which launched in 2016 and was reintroduced by President Biden in 2022.

Telehealth use has grown immensely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing remote health care services from physicians and other providers using electronic means, such as phone, email, text message, or video conference. Although the use of telehealth has expanded into primary and specialty care, such as cancer care, there is little known about how best to use and sustain telehealth in providing cancer-related care, according to NIH.

“These centers will address important gaps in telehealth and cancer-related care delivery,” said Robin C. Vanderpool, DrPH, chief of the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch in the NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Services (DCCPS), in a press release. “We need to establish an evidence base for using this technology to deliver health care in oncology and make it part of routine care. In addition, these centers will explore opportunities for scalability and dissemination of their cancer-related telehealth interventions beyond their own health systems.”

The 4 academic centers will evaluate the role of telehealth in areas such as prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. Additionally, each center will be led by an academic institution that has assembled diverse teams of researchers to conduct large trials in real-world clinical settings, such as hospitals, cancer centers, oncology practices, and primary care offices.

The 4 funded centers are:

  • The Telehealth Research and Innovation for Veterans with Cancer (THRIVE) Telehealth Research Center: This center aims to work with the Veterans Health Administration to examine how social factors, such as race and ethnicity, poverty, and rural residence affect the delivery of telehealth for cancer care.
  • The Scalable Telehealth Cancer Care (STELLAR) Center: This center focuses on using telehealth to extend health services to cancer survivors aimed at reducing risk behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity.
  • The University of Pennsylvania Telehealth Research Center of Excellence (Penn TRACE): This center will use communication science and behavioral economics to compare the effectiveness of multiple telehealth strategies on shared decision-making for lung cancer screening and improve access to comprehensive molecular testing for advanced lung cancer.
  • The Making Telehealth Delivery of Cancer Care at Home Effective and Safe (MATCHES) Telehealth Research Center: This center will study the effectiveness of a remote monitoring system, called MSK@Home, for patients receiving systemic treatments for prostate and breast cancer.

In addition to these initiatives, the centers will seek to identify and address telehealth-related disparities among vulnerable populations, such as racial and ethnic groups, rural residents, older adults, people who are uninsured or low-income, people who are socially isolated, and people who have limited digital literacy.

“These centers will be at the cutting edge of some amazing breakthroughs by creating sustainable and effective telehealth options tailored specifically for cancer care,” said Roxanne E. Jensen, PhD, a program director in the Outcomes Research Branch in DCCPS who is overseeing the TRACE initiative with Dr. Vanderpool, in a press release. “This work will pave the way for having health care delivery look a lot different for cancer patients over the next 5 to 10 years, and that's really exciting and in alignment with the goals of the Cancer Moonshot initiative.”

REFERENCE

NIH awards $23 million to establish centers of excellence to study telehealth for cancer care. NIH. August 18, 2022. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-awards-23-million-establish-centers-excellence-study-telehealth-cancer-care