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Cancer care for patients during COVID-19

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Suresh Ramu, Co-founder & CEO, Cytecare Hospitals suggests a recommended approach and basic tenets of cancer care delivery and coordination that should be followed during the COVID-19 pandemic

Healthcare system is evolving with massive technology disruptions taking place. This impact has been seen on cancer diagnosis and treatment with new methods of screening and treatment options being put in place. Cancer is a disease where survival rates can be increased with early diagnosis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has however created an impact on every aspect of life including cancer treatment. With the virus being new, research is also constantly evolving. Cancer patients due to their treatment become immunosuppressed, which means they have low immunity and hence fall under the high-risk group for contracting COVID-19.

Oncology often requires a complex set of clinic visits, surgical stays, radiation therapy appointments, infusion sessions, hospital admissions, laboratory blood draws, and imaging studies etc. So, the consideration in the delivery of cancer care should be focused on effective cancer treatment enabling oncologists and patients to navigate the crisis.

Below is a recommended approach and basic tenets of cancer care delivery and coordination that should be followed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Remote’ connection

During the pandemic, the ability to offer remote/virtual consultations has helped medical systems offer timely consultation and reduce the risks of infection while dealing with limited hospital resources. Cancer patients, for instance, who are at a high risk of serious infection managed to get regular advice from their doctors via teleconsultations – without having to travel to the hospital

The need of the hour is to invest in technologies that can facilitate timely, evidence-based care. Smart ICUs, for instance, are a good example of offering valuable benefits of continuous remote surveillance. For effective and seamless healthcare delivery, innovative technologies such as Smart ICUs can help prevent infections, facilitate early detection of organ failures and timely resuscitation of patients, aid in devising disease-specific protocols as well as effective strategies for blood transfusion and utilisation of lung protective ventilation.

Digital ecosystem

A digital ecosystem is easier to bring together medical experts and specialists in real-time for an effective exchange of ideas and discussions and this becomes especially vital in cases when a patient’s medical condition – such as cancer – demands that doctors from different specialities come together to chalk out a cohesive treatment plan.

Powered by data

Global organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) have classified illnesses, their causes and symptoms into a massive database containing more than 14,000 individual codes. Nurses and doctors working on the frontline are now – more than ever before – digitally recording real-time patient data. The practice allows for improved accessibility to patient’s medical history and related information to ensure data-driven decision-making for timely care.

Physical examinations and regular medical routines

Technology has definitely played its role during the pandemic, but it cannot replace physical touchpoints and direct doctor consultations. While the hospitals will have to adapt to the new normal and up its focus on patient-centric approaches, it’s important for people to get their regular check-ups and examinations done on a regular interval.

The delay may lead to more complications for a cancer patient who is already undergoing a medical process. For a non-cancer patient who could have probably had a tumour easily removed at an earlier stage, the delay could possibly turn it into a cancerous tumour.

This is where we must realise the importance of physical check-ups or medical routines and technology ideally should aid or accelerate the consultation process. The key is to have disciplined and consistent physical reviews, assessments and timely diagnosis irrespective of the digital solutions we have at our ease.

Way forward

The pandemic has certainly posed significant challenges for the healthcare industry, but it has also highlighted our weaknesses and strengths. The best and perhaps only, way forward is to look at these challenges as opportunities to learn new things and strive to continually evolve.

In cancer care, we are witnessing state-of-the-art technologies such as nanomedicine and robotics revolutionise the way we treat a group of diseases that is much feared. With better treatment modalities and promising outcomes, I hope that the fear will make way for hope.

One of the biggest challenges for healthcare in India is to bridge the yawning demand and supply gap. The future of medicine lies in technological innovation and agility for predictive and preventive care. Digital health tools have the power to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all. India’s vision of ‘Health for All’ can become a reality – in time.

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