Rates of anxiety and depression are significantly higher in cancer patients and survivors than in the general population. However in busy cancer services many patients fail to receive appropriate treatment to manage their anxiety and depression symptoms. Barriers to treatment include insufficient psycho-oncology services, particularly for those in rural or remote regions as well as patient reluctance to attend psychological therapy due to perceived stigma. Online CBT programs have been developed for the treatment of clinical anxiety and depression in the general population and have demonstrated efficacy, are cost effective and convenient for the participant. There are a number of online programs developed to provide information and support to cancer patients, although delivery of depression and anxiety therapy online is a relatively new treatment paradigm in the context of cancer.
This presentation provides an overview of considerations and challenges cancer services face when integrating online therapy into routine care. For health professionals to feel confident to refer patients for treatment outside of traditional referral networks there needs to be clear distinction between evidence-based therapies and general information websites to ensure patients receive the appropriate level of psychological care. To ensure patient safety, strict clinical monitoring and follow up protocols need to be in place. There also needs to be a clear pathway for discharge back to the cancer team.
Online psychological treatments have the potential to address the barriers to patients accessing face to face psycho-oncology care, however as with any emerging health technology, how to integrate treatment into existing cancer services to improve patient outcomes needs careful consideration.