Caring for a population that is highly vulnerable to COVID-19, oncology practices have had to rapidly adapt for the pandemic. They’re adopting new protocols to minimize patient exposure to the coronavirus, embracing technology to treat more patients remotely, and working to ensure their own financial viability.
In late April, New Century Health convened virtually members of its Oncology and Radiation Scientific Advisory Boards (SAB) and several other leading physicians to share their experiences and lessons learned from their initial response to the pandemic. The SAB is comprised of noted academic and community-based specialist physicians. The participants represented a cross-section of the oncology community, with some coming from the hardest hit areas and others from communities preparing for more severe outbreaks.
In this video, New Century Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrew Hertler shares three key takeaways from the discussion:
- Telehealth adoption has been rapid and is likely here to stay. Before the pandemic, telehealth had not penetrated the oncology field. COVID-19 has led to a rapid uptick in the use of telemedicine in oncology in order to limit patient exposure to the virus. Practices in the virtual meeting reported that somewhere between one-third to two-thirds of visits are now being conducted via telemedicine. These consist mainly of follow-up visits that do not necessarily require a traditional in-office visit. Continued use of telehealth after the pandemic is likely, potentially reducing emergency department visits and financial toxicity to patients.
- Some practices are experiencing serious financial stress. Surgical practices and imaging centers have been particularly hard-hit, as elective procedures and studies are postponed. Lost revenue is threatening layoffs and the very survival of practices. These changes, if not addressed, could have serious impacts, such as dramatically altered referral patterns and delayed diagnoses and surgical procedures.
- There are long-term concerns with delayed screening and diagnosis. As routine visits and screenings are cancelled and postponed, the pandemic will inevitably delay diagnoses, with significant downstream impacts. We can expect a surge of new diagnoses later this year when these patient visits resume. Cancers may be detected at later stages, resulting in greater hardships to patients and increased health care costs.