The COVID-19 pandemic has made drive-up health services a whole lot more common — with many cities adopting drive-up services for coronavirus testing. Now, some cancer centers are taking the drive-up idea and applying it to cancer care.Read More
The idea came from a medical team at Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavilion, where the drive-thru has since been set up, Fox-17 reports. A nurse reported that a patient was expressing concern about having to go in for routine cancer care near an urgent care center in the hospital — where people would be coming in with COVID-19 symptoms.
“She was concerned that she was going into the building during a pandemic where everybody was going to get diagnosed, potentially, with coronavirus,” Melissa Hibdon, Clinical Manager for Oncology Infusion Services at the pavilion, told Fox.
From there, the medical team made the idea of drive-thru routine services a reality last week.
How Are Other Cancer Centers Adjusting?
While the Grand Rapids drive-up idea doesn’t work for all procedures, many cancer centers across the country have come up with other plans to minimize the time patients could be exposed to COVID-19. Johns Hopkins University’s Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, for example, opened up a curbside shot clinic within days of the pandemic shutting down large portions of the U.S. in March.
They also opened a special Urgent Care Bio Clinic for cancer patients that contracted the coronavirus.
The drive-up clinic offers basically every outpatient service with the exception of chemotherapy IV infusions. They can have their blood drawn and checked, receive single injections of therapy drugs, growth factors that stimulate production of blood cells diminished by cancer treatments, cancer vaccines and more without ever leaving their vehicles, according to a press release Johns Hopkins provided SurvivorNet.
The reasoning behind the drive-thru treatments, the nurses who set it up say, is to make patients feel more comfortable in a time of extremely high stress.
“Patients were afraid and were cancelling appointments for important care,” MiKaela Olsen, DPN, APRN-CNS, a clinical nurse specialist at Kimmel Cancer Center, said. “We had to adapt to the circumstances and come up with a way to get them the care they needed while also protecting them from becoming infected with the coronavirus.”
However, other cancer centers have found that the drive-thru approach is not necessary. “Moffitt does not have drive-thru treatment because the center is a stand-alone center, meaning it is not connected to a hospital so we are only dealing with our cancer patients,” says Dr. Robert J. Keenan, the Chief Medical Office of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, to SurvivorNet. Thus, they have implemented certain measures to secure the safety of their patients like limiting the number of people on campus, screening everyone for COVID-19, limiting visitors, and requiring masks for everyone. These are a few ways in which the center is altering protocols to make it safer for patients.
Dr. Keenan also spoke to SurvivorNet about the move towards tele-medicine and how it is an effective way to care for cancer patients in certain situations.
The Move to Tele-Medicine
Obviously, certain cancer procedures cannot be done in an outpatient setting, like surgeries and chemo infusions, but as the pandemic began shutting down elective treatments, cancer patients and their oncologists have had to make some adjustments — and tele-health visits have become an incredible tool for monitoring patients during this process.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Brendon Stiles, a thoracic surgeon at Weill-Cornell Medical Center told SurvivorNet that while adjusting to seeing some patients on only video calls has been a challenge, doctors are finding ways to make it work — and to assure patients that they are getting the best care available.
“The toughest part for me is not being able to put my hand on somebody’s shoulder, to pat them on the back, to sort of listen to their lungs,” Dr. Stiles said. “I do think that that’s a big part of medicine, that human touch, and I think that’s why a lot of our patients feel scared right now. They’re kind of just seeing doctors on the TV screen … Everybody is obviously staying away from each other now, which is really important for the virus, but psychologically, it’s pretty hard.”
“I think when you talk by telemedicine, you have to just open yourself up,” he added. “You have to smile more, you have to tell them that we’re going to get through this and really just convince patients that we’re all in this together. Patients are doing surprisingly well.”