Ensuring continuity of cancer care amid COVID-19

People looking at large screen
4 May 2020

Cancer specialists in the Illawarra Shoalhaven region south of Sydney are holding multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings from behind the safety of their laptops, ensuring continuity of care for NSW Health cancer patients as the fight against COVID-19 continues.

“By conducting these meetings remotely, we can help preserve a functioning workforce of cancer specialists,” said Dr Elias Nasser, Staff Specialist in Radiation Oncology and Director of Cancer Services, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.

“Our normal model of conducting multidisciplinary team meetings with a room full of doctors could potentially decimate our cancer service provision if just one of the attendees were to be infected with COVID-19.”

For patients, it’s greatly reassuring that their cancer treatment will not be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr Elias.

“We can let them know that while it’s not business as usual at the moment, we are still providing a continuity of high-quality care,” he said. “It sends a strong message that their care is important and continuing – albeit remotely but no less thoroughly.”

Held in the conference rooms of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven Cancer Care Centres, MDT meetings typically involve at least 10 highly skilled clinicians including a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgeons, radiologists, anatomical pathologists and their respective teams.

Should one of these clinicians succumb to sickness and/or enforced isolation, it puts at risk the entire team’s ability to care for people whose illness means they are already immuno-suppressed, said Dr Nasser.

Leveraging the infrastructure of the state’s digital health agency eHealth NSW, these meetings are now being held via Skype for Business.

Clinicians are able hear the clinical context of each patient’s case, view the relevant medical imaging and histopathology via the screen-sharing capabilities of Skype for Business and make consensus-based recommendations for cancer therapy individualised to each patient’s circumstance.

Clinicians were pleased with the functionality of the Skype for Business platform and the changes necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic will likely make a lasting impact on how Cancer MDTs are conducted in the future, Dr Elias said.

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