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Video coaching may relieve anxiety and distress for long-distance cancer caregivers



Anxiety and distress related to caring for a cancer patient who lives far away may be alleviated through an intervention that includes video-based coaching sessions with a nurse practitioner or social worker, a randomized study suggests.

A patient has a telehealth encounter via smartphone. AJ_Watt/E+

About 20% of long-distance caregivers had a significant reduction in anxiety and 25% had a significant reduction in distress when they received video coaching sessions, attended oncologist visits via video, and had access to a website specifically designed for their needs.

Adding the caregiver to oncologist office visits made the patients feel better supported and didn’t add a significant amount of time to the encounter, said Sara L. Douglas, PhD, RN, of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland.

Taken together, these results suggest that fairly simple technologies can be leveraged to help caregivers cope with psychological strains related to supporting a patient who doesn’t live nearby, Dr. Douglas said.

Distance caregivers, defined as those who live an hour or more away from the patient, can experience high rates of distress and anxiety because they lack first-hand information or may have uncertainty about the patient’s current condition, according to Dr. Douglas and colleagues.

“Caregivers’ high rates of anxiety and distress have been found to have a negative impact not only upon their own health but upon their ability to provide high quality care to the patient,” Dr. Douglas said.

With this in mind, she and her colleagues conducted a 4-month study of distance caregivers. Dr. Douglas presented results from the study at the American Society of Clinical Oncology virtual scientific program during a press briefing in advance of the meeting. This year, ASCO’s annual meeting is split into two parts. The virtual scientific program will be presented online on May 29-31, and the virtual education program will be available Aug. 8-10.

Study details

The study enrolled 441 distance caregivers of cancer patients, and Dr. Douglas presented results in 311 of those caregivers. (Data in the presentation differ from the abstract.) The caregivers were, on average, 47 years of age. Most were female (72%), white (67%), the child of the patient (63%), currently employed (81%), and new to the distance caregiver role (89%).

The caregivers were randomized to one of three study arms.

One arm received the full intervention, which consisted of four video-coaching sessions with an advanced practice nurse or social worker, videoconference office visits with the physician and patient, and access to a website with information for cancer distance caregivers. A second arm received no video coaching but had access to the website and participated in video visits with the physician and patient. The third arm, which only received access to the website, served as the study’s control group.


Dr. Douglas said that the full intervention had the biggest impact on caregivers’ distress and anxiety.

Among distance caregivers who received the full intervention, 19.2% had a significant reduction in anxiety (P = .03), as measured in online surveys before and after the intervention using the PROMIS Anxiety instrument. Furthermore, 24.8% of these caregivers had a significant reduction in distress (P = .02) from preintervention to post intervention, as measured by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Distress Thermometer. Overall, distress and anxiety scores decreased in this arm.

Distance caregivers who only had physician-patient video visits and website access had a “moderate” reduction in distress and anxiety, Dr. Douglas said. Among these caregivers, 17.3% had an improvement in anxiety from baseline, and 19.8% had an improvement in distress. Overall, distress scores decreased, but anxiety scores increased slightly in this arm.

In the control arm, 13.1% of caregivers had an improvement in anxiety from baseline, and 18% had an improvement in distress. Overall, both anxiety and distress scores increased in this arm.

“While the full intervention yielded the best results for distance caregivers, we recognize that not all health care systems have the resources to provide individualized coaching sessions to distance caregivers,” Dr. Douglas said. “Therefore, it is worth noting that videoconference office visits alone are found to be of some benefit in improving distress and anxiety in this group of cancer caregivers.”

The study results suggest videoconferencing interventions can improve the emotional well-being of remote caregivers who provide “critical support” for cancer patients, said ASCO President Howard A. “Skip” Burris III, MD.

“As COVID-19 forces separation from loved ones and increases anxiety for people with cancer and their caregivers, providing emotional support virtually is more important than ever,” Dr. Burris said in a news release highlighting the study.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Douglas reported having no disclosures. Other researchers involved in the study disclosed relationships with BridgeBio Pharma, Cardinal Health, Apexigen, Roche/Genentech, Seattle Genetics, Tesaro, Array BioPharma, Abbvie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Celgene. A full list of Dr. Burris’s financial disclosures is available on the ASCO website.

SOURCE: Douglas SL et al. ASCO 2020, Abstract 12123.

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