Concerns over the coronavirus have dramatically changed attitudes towards how healthcare services are accessed, with a widespread reluctance amongst patients to visit hospitals or crowded healthcare facilities and an increasing use of virtual care models. Even as countries begin to resume routine health services, the anticipated rebound of in-person visits, including for cancer care, has not yet triggered a return to pre-pandemic numbers. Looking ahead, this raises an interesting question as to whether a deeper paradigm shift is afoot on how healthcare is delivered.
Cancer care delivery has also experienced rapid changes in response to the pandemic: many non-clinical services are being conducted virtually or have moved to a community setting, and, when not delayed, clinical care has shifted to less intensive therapies and a greater consideration of alternative treatment regimens to reduce hospital visits.
COVID-19 has uprooted well entrenched ways of working in a matter of weeks, ushering in innovations that may have otherwise taken years to be adopted. Once their impact on patient outcomes has been rigorously evaluated, new approaches such as telehealth, virtual care and community-based care may show the potential to transform the existing system into a more accessible, collaborative, efficient and patient-centred model. At the same time, they carry risks to increase disparities in access to health care for vulnerable, less connected, populations.
This second dialogue explores the trends that have emerged during COVID-19 and discusses how the cancer community can build on this momentum to innovate, revise and integrate outdated and fragmented infrastructures to support new paradigms of care and bring quality cancer services closer to the patient.
Miriam Mutebi, Consultant Breast Surgical Oncologist, Aga Khan University Hospital Kenya and UICC Board Member