As we continue to move forward in 2020 with Covid-19 seemingly expanding wider, oncologic care is finding itself in an uncommon and challenging dilemma between the goal to protect patients who are susceptible to Covid-19 while also trying to provide the important treatment they need in appropriate time frames so not to jeopardize treatment outcomes.
Unfortunately, those patients who have cancer are particularly susceptible because of their age, health, and immunosuppression from ongoing cancer therapy. With about 50% of cancer patients receiving radiation therapy, radiation departments around the county have needed to adapt in a situation that is uncharted, requiring ultra-sterile environments, and sometimes uncomfortable processes that would not have been necessary before the Covid-19 era.
Radiotherapy institutions are contemplating major questions that can impact not only the quality of their patient’s treatments, but also their patient’s health and the medical staff who serve them. Comprehensive measures are being taken to mitigate risk from exposure and spread. Patients and medical personnel are oftentimes required to enter separate entrances before they take a sperate screening, with appointments broken out in separate intervals to minimize extensive overlap in the waiting room. For patients who are COVID-19 positive and need radiation treatment, all equipment must be sterilized, and extra precautions are taken than those who are Covid-19 negative. Treatment breaks are another issue for recently diagnosed Covid patients, as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines require a 14-day minimum quarantine, increasing treatment package and time sacrificing confidence in local control.
A new mindset for department operations is also developing with the use of telemedicine, which has become paramount in mitigating exposure for patients and health care workers while also lowering the number of employees in facilities. While these precautions are necessary and positive for maintaining the spread of Covid, we need to make sure that patients do not feel socially isolated or neglected by their health care providers in such a great time of uncertainty as this. Patients are already trying to overcome the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis and, world pandemic or not, we need to make sure these patients get all the care they deserve.