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Cancer patients currently wary of visiting hospitals, looking for options to get chemotherapy at home

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Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical, in an exclusive conversation with Prabhat Prakash talks about the challenges faced while initiating the ‘Chemotherapy at Home’ service and how they plan to sustain the service in the long term, and its benefits

Portea just launched ‘Chemotherapy at Home’ service. How has the response from patients been so far?

We have launched ‘Chemotherapy at Home’ services in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and and Kolkata. The service is intended to benefit people with cancer who have been undergoing chemotherapy at hospitals and are at a higher risk of developing infections in light of COVID-19. The response has been good so far. Cancer patients and their families are currently wary of visiting hospitals and looking for options to get chemotherapy at home. We get a lot of calls from patients who do not wish to get this done at hospitals due to the COVID-19 spread. In the past, the demand for such services used to be low, but given the pandemic, it has shot up.

From an implementation point of view, what are the challenges faced?

If we look at the overall implementation, we are well-prepared. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, we are facing some transportation issues. For instance, there are various hotspots where we are unable to reach. The restrictions also mean that our staff and the nurses are not able to visit the patients’ homes. Earlier, public transport was causing a problem, but now we have hired full-time cars and vehicles. We have also made arrangements for passes under essential services category for our medical staff. Apart from this challenge, we are well-equipped on other fronts –be it manpower or equipment, etc.

How are the chances of error during treatment going to be eliminated?

The services that we deliver at home are at par with those provided at the hospitals. We follow the protocols stipulated by senior oncologists for every session and patient. The only difference is that the patient is getting chemotherapy at home whereas earlier this was provided at a hospital. We ensure the same quality of equipment is used and the sessions are undertaken by certified personnel. As part of this service, a trained and certified chemotherapy nurse is being appointed for the session and all the sessions are supervised by qualified doctors who work full-time with Portea Medical. We also pay utmost attention to the planning and post-chemotherapy care of patients. In case of any emergency, we have backup plans ready to transfer the patient to a hospital. Overall, our home chemotherapy services are as safe as those provided at hospitals. Our senior oncologists evaluate individual cases and determine what therapy should be given at home to the patient. It is only after their approval and instructions that the services are delivered.

Is this service going to continue post COVID-19?

The services will continue in the post-COVID-19 scenario as well. What we have observed so far is that unlike the western countries, home chemotherapy did not have much acceptance in India before the pandemic outbreak. However, the prevailing situation has raised awareness and acceptance levels among patients as well as doctors. If the patient requests for it, the service can be delivered, and our processes and equipment used are similar to those at hospitals. Conventionally, the patient would have had to undertake periodic visits to the hospital, accompanied by a family member and also arrange for the transportation and other such things. With home services, all that is taken care of. The patient remains at home and in a very comfortable environment. Hence, it is overall a highly beneficial service that is going to continue even in the normal times after COVID-19.

Is Portea planning on scaling up this service?

We do have plans to expand the service and are in consultation with oncologists across India. While the demand today is driven by the pandemic, our consultations are ongoing. We are connecting with doctors and making them aware of the cases we have served or are currently serving. At present, the service is available in metro cities, but we have plans to expand our coverage to tier-two cities as well.

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