Beyond the challenges related to specific modes of cancer therapy, pandemic-related lockdown guidelines and travel restrictions make it difficult for patients to travel to cancer care centers. And even those patients willing and able to travel, or those who typically receive treatment close to home, may have difficulty receiving treatment as hospitals and cancer centers strive to reduce access to their facilities. Decreased access for non-essential staff, vendors and repair technicians may slow or limit the care that can be delivered. Finally, physician burnout, which is a significant challenge in oncology during normal times, is a growing concern as physicians work in increasingly high-stress environments with less support staff and while trying to ensure the survival of their practices.
Radiation medicine and healthcare informatics are power solutions
Precision radiation medicine and robust healthcare informatics enable effective and timely care that meets the Covid-19-related needs of patients, physicians and care centers. A key advantage of cutting-edge radiation medicine regimens is that they can be designed to avoid bone marrow, reducing immunosuppression and patients’ infection risk. While reduced infection risk is beneficial for any cancer patient any time treatment is delivered, it is particularly critical during a viral pandemic. Additionally, the use of hypofractionated regimens reduces the number of treatment sessions required for effective dosing. This offers a triple benefit of reducing the number of times a patient needs to leave home for cancer therapy, decreasing traffic through care centers, and alleviating workload for overburdened staff.
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Another advantage to using precision radiation medicine approaches during the Covid-19 pandemic is its integration into multi-modal therapy. In response to the challenges of immunosuppressive chemotherapy or the limited ability to perform surgery, oncologists are, in some instances, restructuring how combination therapy is delivered. Some patients may receive radiation before chemotherapy or surgery rather than after these other modalities in order to delay immunosuppression and to enable some form of treatment to be delivered while operating rooms are closed to all but the most emergent procedures.
Robust informatics and automated systems also have a critical role to play in delivering timely and effective cancer therapy during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is because they enable significant operational and workflow efficiencies that minimize patients’ wait times once they arrive for treatment and allow high-quality care to be delivered even when on-site staffing levels may be below normal.