The uncertainties precipitated by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic around cancer care delivery are a challenging topic to be further addressed at this year’s Patient-Centered Oncology Care® 2020 virtual meeting.
The uncertainties precipitated by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic around cancer care delivery are a challenging topic to be further addressed at this year’s Patient-Centered Oncology Care® 2020 virtual meeting, said Kashyap Patel, MD, CEO of Carolina Blood and Cancer Care, associate editor of Evidence-Based Oncology™, and vice president of the Community Oncology Alliance.
AJMC®: While COVID-19 is not specifically on the agenda, it’s never far from the discussion on cancer care delivery. What do you want to know from fellow participants about treating people with cancer during the pandemic?
Patel: First of all, COVID-19 really has shaken us up in terms of how do we deal with something that’s totally unanticipated. It’s more so troublesome because it has devastating impact on cancer patients. If you look at the studies that came out originally from China, as well as other parts of the world, cancer patients have 3 to 4 times higher likelihood of capturing COVID-19, because of their immunocompromised state, and when they get COVID-19, they have much higher morbidity and mortality resulting from COVID-19.
So, the first thing I want to hear from my fellow colleagues on the panel is how they are navigating their own operations, how they are trying to minimize the risk of exposure, how they’re incorporating telehealth to minimize the inpatient visit to the patients coming and getting exposed to any other patient.
My second biggest uncertainty is when and if the COVID-19 pandemic is done, we’ll have an onslaught of many uninsured patients. We are still not seeing the true impact of how many people will be unemployed, how many people will be losing their livelihood, and how we are going to deal with maybe 5 or 6 times more patients who are losing their health care benefits—how pharma is going to work with us to increase the patient assistance programs.
So, access to care will become a much bigger challenge going down the road, and I’m not sure of the impact it will have on the health care providers as well. Some of my colleagues have passed away—we already had some short supply of the service physician specialties and how it’s going to impact the burden of the cancer patient on the practice already here.
The last point I want to make is that many places went for stopping all elective procedures. So, we'll see a lot more patients with more advanced cancer, and how they’re going to, again, deal with the challenges of a disproportionate number of patients who are uninsured with much more advanced disease.
AJMC®: The virtual format is a necessity but also presents opportunities for community oncologists who may not have as much flexibility to travel. What features of the meeting do you recommend for fellow community oncologists?
Patel: I definitely want most of my colleagues to access these meetings because it’s a blessing in disguise in a sense that traveling in person would actually take time away from the clinic and not being able to access the care, but in a virtual meeting, I can essentially reshuffle my schedule here and there to accommodate my patients, and at the same time, learn the most.
Because most of the esteemed faculty, for example, even if we had live in-session meetings, I’m not sure how many of the faculty would have traveled, but with the number of extremely distinguished faculty that took this time, I do feel that we’ll learn a lot more from everyone’s collective experience.
Again, these are certainly unusual times. We are learning and leaning on each other to navigate through the pandemic, and how each and every one of us is working to keep patient care going on without reducing the access. So, it’s going to be collaborative, cooperative, cohesive learning from each other in this pandemic.