COVID-19: Challenges Facing Community Cancer Care Providers

Large community care centers remain committed to providing necessary treatments to patients with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a recent webcast titled Community Cancer Care Providers, which is part of the Association for Value-Based Cancer Care (AVBCC) webcast series: COVID-19 Impact on the Cancer Care Delivery Ecosystem, a panel of healthcare executives discussed how the pandemic is reshaping the ways in which community cancer centers provide care to their patients, the challenges that providers face as they navigate an evolving healthcare ecosystem, and how practices can continue to deliver care in the months ahead.

“There’s been a myriad of challenges that practices have faced trying to keep patients out of the hospital while trying to continue treating them and communicating with them,” said Ted Okon, MBA, Executive Director, Community Oncology Alliance, Washington, DC, who moderated the discussion. He then asked the panelists to identify the main challenges they have faced as the crisis continues.

Lucio Gordan, MD, President, Florida Cancer Specialists, and President, American Oncology Partners, described the current situation in Florida, where his practice sees approximately 75,000 patients in a year. Dr Gordan said that a significant factor among providers is “fear for their own health, that of their families, team members, and their patients.” He also indicated that obtaining an adequate amount of personal protective equipment, even simple things, such as antibacterial wipes, sanitizers, and masks, was a challenge.

Debra Pratt, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President, Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Texas Oncology, said, “In community oncology, we see the most vulnerable patients in America, and we needed to reduce the volume so we could socially distance and provide a safer environment for our patients who need to continue to have treatment.” She said that telemedicine was essential in achieving this goal, and that seeing new patients via this technology kept them out of the hospital, which she referred to as the “area of highest risk.”

Mr Okon asked the panelists to assess the new regulations related to telemedicine and the degree to which the technology is working in their practices. Jeff Patton, MD, CEO, Tennessee Oncology, stressed that, “protecting our most vulnerable patients and moving to telehealth is huge. I think it’s critically important.”

“We have to deliver solutions and safety and security,” said Dr Gordan. Cutting down telehealth would pose a “severe problem” going forward, he added.

Regarding the topic of social distancing and the effect that it may have on the relationship between oncology providers and pharma, Dr Pratt said that the pharma representatives provide useful information and “make data related to FDA approvals and prescribing information readily available.” She added that since the current restrictions are not likely to change, the challenge of integrating all the pieces of the healthcare ecosystem still needs to be addressed.

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