Cancer care during the COVID-19 crisis has been “de-prioritised, delayed,” and in some places, discontinued, especially in the early days of the pandemic. Cancer patients “are facing disruption for all but the most urgent procedures,” a May article in The Lancet said.
This month, Cancer Australia revealed data showing a 16-57% drop in some cancer services and procedures for three of Australia’s most common cancers during the pandemic. As a developer of cancer treatment solutions, I find this particularly disturbing because cancer does not stop during a pandemic.
At Varian, we look for new ways to increase access to quality care for cancer patients. We offer cancer treatment technology and services around the world. We innovate tools to facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing, and put artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation to work in the clinic. While these technologies and services were designed to improve access to care, they have proven to be very useful during this pandemic. Let me offer a few examples.
Software tools that let clinicians work remotely
Varian provides cancer centres with software products for managing the cancer patient’s journey, from diagnosis through survivorship.
This software contains many tools and features that allow clinicians to work remotely, and to collaborate across boundaries within clinics, between clinics, and across healthcare systems. For example, we have enabled radiation therapy planners at Peter Maccallum Cancer Centre in Victoria to plan treatments from their homes rather than from terminals onsite.
Our goal was to enable high quality cancer care without the need to place highly trained personnel at every site — a major barrier to access in places like regional Australia. We could not have foreseen that COVID-19 would make these tools and features essential to operating a cancer clinic during a pandemic.
Refer enquiries to Varian Medical Systems Australasia on 1800 657 036 or [email protected].
Tools for providing virtual care
Telemedicine applications used by patients to interact with care teams are providing clinicians with information for making important and timely care decisions without the need for in-person visits.
Telemedicine lets clinicians be proactive rather than reactive — even after patients have left cancer treatment centres. Patients can track their own well-being, ask and respond to questions, and alert their care teams when they experience complications, all via a simple app for their tablet or phone.
In 2017-18, emergency departments of Australian public hospitals received about eight million visits, costing over $5.5 billion. Telemedicine applications can help decrease these visits by helping patients distinguish between normal symptoms and signs that they need urgent care.
Clinicians can use this approach for monitoring patient symptoms and adjusting therapies before minor symptoms become severe enough to warrant a visit to the clinic or the emergency department.
Promoting resource sharing amongst oncology providers
Last year, Varian made the leap from providing cancer treatment equipment and software to owning and operating cancer centres through our acquisition of Cancer Treatment Services International (CTSI). This has enabled new capabilities to support cancer treatment during COVID-19.
Through our CTSI Oncology Practice Solutions, we are matching cancer providers with highly qualified oncology experts to cover fluctuating workloads and effectively maintain care levels, even when hospital employees were unable to work due to COVID.
For us, the COVID-19 pandemic has been galvanising. While we are pleased that we were able to help many clinical teams continue their vital work helping cancer patients, we also know that there is much more to do, to be ready for the next pandemic and to ensure access to quality care across the globe, even in normal times.
By evolving our range of technologies and services during this time of crisis will have increased access to high-quality cancer care, while reducing costs and keeping patients and clinicians safe — all important and worthy goals as we strive for a world without fear of cancer.