In a discussion titled Community Cancer Care Providers, Ted Okon, MBA, Executive Director, Community Oncology Alliance, Washington, DC, brought together a distinguished panel of healthcare executives to discuss the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the way community cancer centers provide care to their patients. Topics during the webcast ranged from the logistics of working remotely to personal protective equipment to telemedicine to the likelihood of a vaccine in the near future.
“There’s obviously been a myriad of challenges that practices have faced trying to keep patients out of the hospital, while trying to keep treating them and communicating with them,” Mr Okon said. He asked the panelists to define the top 2 challenges they have faced as the crisis continues.
Lucio Gordan, MD, President, Florida Cancer Specialists, and President, American Oncology Partners, led the discussion by describing 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…simple things such as antibacterial wipes and sanitizers, masks, etc,” 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 met.