9 pandemic changes in oncology care that should be retained for ongoing services

Cancer care

By Mardi Chapman

25 Oct 2021

The wide uptake of telehealth across the health care system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is just one change that should be further supported into the future for ongoing provision of high value cancer care, a new report advises.

Cancer Australia has outlined strategies at the system, service, practitioner and patient level which will assist cancer patients into the recovery phase of the pandemic and beyond.

“Some new or modified healthcare practices will be of long-term value in improving quality and resilience in cancer care,” it says.

The report, informed by input from leading cancer experts and consumer representatives, said telehealth offered benefits regarding choice, convenience and safety for both the patient and clinician. As well it potentially reduces rural-urban disparity in cancer care.

However there were numerous teething issues and most telehealth consultations were conducted via telephone rather than videoconferencing, despite Department of Health recommendations.

The report, COVID-19 Recovery: Implications for cancer care, said system-wide strategies to support telehealth into the future included developing standards, governance, policies and procedures.

At the service level, there should be investment in sustainable IT infrastructure and personnel to support the safe and effective delivery of cancer care via telehealth while at the practitioner level they recommended training to improve digital literacy, capabilities and patient-clinician communication.

Other elements of care which had changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and could be built upon to improve cancer patients’ experiences and outcomes included:

  • Modification to treatment schedules
  • Responsive patient support
  • Changes to prevention and early detection
  • Increased use of hypofractionated radiotherapy
  • Innovative care and hospital infrastructure models
  • Move from in-person to virtual MDT meetings
  • Uptake of oncology hospital in the home
  • Shared follow-up and survivorship care

As well, the report noted the pandemic’s major impact on cancer research.

“A global analysis found a 60% decrease in enrolment of new patients in oncology clinical trials in April 2020 compared with April 2019,” the report said.

Teletrials, incorporating electronic recruitment, home delivery of trials drugs, remote laboratory collections and remote monitoring of symptoms and adverse events, was one of the overall strategies to reinvigorate clinical research.

A summary of the report has been published in The MJA.

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