During this time of COVID-19, many people with new diagnoses and chronic diseases are shying away from regular care out of fear and uncertainty. This is especially concerning for the cancer patient population because delaying or postponing screening, diagnosis, and care is often not safe and critical to the patients’ health journey.
Unlike elective surgeries, cancer care cannot wait most of the time. Cancer centers and Programs across the country have moved quickly to establish procedures and protocols that allow quality cancer care to continue. These include:
Patient safety – during in-patient visits, protocols for infection prevention and social distancing have been put in place: COVID-19 screening, limiting the number of patients by spacing out appointments, frequently cleaning surface areas, and adhering to infection protocol including wearing masks and social distancing.1
Telehealth visits – Virtual visits have increased significantly during COVID. Nurse navigation and case management particularly are successfully using this technology to follow up patient care and discuss next steps without face-to-face interaction.
Care at home – A shift to home-based treatment plans, when safe to do so, has allowed patients to receive care, including supportive education, in their homes.
Online support – Instead of in-person support groups, and face-to-face consultation, centers are using online platforms that support remote education and support groups to ensure patients still receive the education and support needed during treatment.
Patient education and communication has always been a critical aspect to cancer care, even required for certification; and now, it is more important than ever before. Patients who understand their diagnosis, treatment options, the importance of nutrition, managing side effects, personal medical device care, and ways to find support can better navigate their journey, whether in-person or virtually. During COVID-19, infection prevention at home is critical to staying safe. And don’t forget the caregivers who play such a critical role in treatment.
There is also a potential for a shadow curve, a rise in the cancer cases due to delays in screenings, meaning that potential cases of cancer are going undiagnosed and therefore untreated or undertreated. Education about the importance of screening to find and treat cancer early should surely continue.