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How to manage cancer care during COVID-19 pandemic

Experts from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA)—a Member Institution of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)—are sharing insights and advice on how to continue providing optimal cancer care during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

SCCA includes the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, which are located in the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

The peer-reviewed article sharing best practices is published in the journal JNCCN and is available for free online-ahead-of-print via open access.

“Responding quickly and confidently to the COVID-19 crisis is the health care challenge of our generation,” said co-lead author F. Marc Stewart, MD, Medical Director, SCCA. “Our overarching goal is to keep our cancer patients and staff safe while continuing to provide compassionate, high-quality care under circumstances we’ve never had to face before. We are working around the clock to develop new guidelines and policies to address situations that we couldn’t have imagined several weeks ago. When the pandemic ends, we will all be proud of what we did for our patients and each other in this critical moment for humanity.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every facet of our global and domestic societies and health care systems in unprecedented fashion,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “People with cancer appear to be at increased risk of COVID-19, and their outcomes are worse than individuals without cancer. The NCCN Member Institutions are rapidly gaining experience in preventing and managing COVID-19. As is the nature of the NCCN Member Institutions, they are sharing their experience in organising and managing institutional and care systems responses and best practices in this rapidly evolving global effort.”

The article stresses the importance of keeping channels of communication open between administrators and staff, patients, caregivers, and the general public.

The authors recommend forming an Incident Command Structure to provide early coordination of institution-wide efforts and to rapidly respond to changing information.

They highlight the need to remain flexible and ready for unexpected challenges.

Some of the anticipated challenges include:

  • Staff shortages due to potential exposure and/or school closings
  • Limitations of resources such as hospital beds, mechanical ventilation, and other equipment
  • Impact on treatment from travel bans, including reduced access to international donors for allogeneic stem cell transplantation

The authors recommend mitigating some of these concerns through proactive measures that include:

  • Providing patient information via handouts, signs, web-based communication, and a dedicated phone line for questions and triage
  • Rescheduling “well” visits and elective surgeries, and deferring second opinion consultations (where care is already appropriately established)
  • Increasing hours of general hospital operations to reduce the unnecessary use of emergency department resources
  • Reinforcing a strict “stay at home when ill” policy and insuring staff have access to testing
  • Restricting travel and enabling work-from-home wherever possible
  • Prioritising the use of soap and water over hand gel
  • Limiting the number of team members who enter patients’ rooms
  • Considering lower thresholds for blood transfusions
  • Moving some procedures from inpatient to outpatient
  • Adopting a no visitor policy with rare exceptions such as end-of-life circumstances
  • Having upfront, proactive palliative and end-of-life conversations with cancer patients who may become infected with COVID-19

Source: NCCN
Credit: ecancer.org