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Managing cancer outpatients during the pandemic: Tips from MSKCC



Best practices for managing cancer outpatients continue to evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic, with recent innovations in technology, operations, and communication.

Dr. Tiffany A. Traina, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York

Dr. Tiffany A. Traina

“We’ve tried a lot of new things to ensure optimal care for our patients,” said Tiffany A. Traina, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York. “We need to effectively utilize all resources at our disposal to keep in touch with our patients during this time.”

Dr. Traina described the approach to outpatient management used at MSKCC during a presentation at the AACR Virtual Meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer.

Four guiding principles

MSKCC has established four guiding principles on how to manage cancer patients during the pandemic: openness, safety, technology, and staffing.

Openness ensures that decisions are guided by clinical priorities to provide optimal patient care and allow for prioritization of clinical research and education, Dr. Traina said.

The safety of patients and staff is of the utmost importance, she added. To ensure safety in the context of outpatient care, several operational levers were developed, including COVID surge planning, universal masking and personal protective equipment guidelines, remote work, clinical levers, and new dashboards and communications.

Dr. Traina said data analytics and dashboards have been key technological tools used to support evidence-based decision-making and deliver care remotely for patients during the pandemic.

Staffing resources have also shifted to support demand at different health system locations.

Screening, cohorting, and telemedicine

One measure MSKCC adopted is the MSK Engage Questionnaire, a COVID-19 screening questionnaire assigned to every patient with a scheduled outpatient visit. After completing the questionnaire, patients receive a response denoting whether they need to come into the outpatient setting.

On the staffing side, clinic coordinators prepare appointments accordingly, based on the risk level for each patient.

“We also try to cohort COVID-positive patients into particular areas within the outpatient setting,” Dr. Traina explained. “In addition, we control flow through ambulatory care locations by having separate patient entrances and use other tools to make flow as efficient as possible.”

On the technology side, interactive dashboards are being used to model traffic through different buildings.

“These data and analytics are useful for operational engineering, answering questions such as (1) Are there backups in chemotherapy? and (2) Are patients seeing one particular physician?” Dr. Traina explained. “One important key takeaway is the importance of frequently communicating simple messages through multiple mechanisms, including signage, websites, and dedicated resources.”

Other key technological measures are leveraging telemedicine to convert inpatient appointments to a virtual setting, as well as developing and deploying a system for centralized outpatient follow-up of COVID-19-positive patients.

“We saw a 3,000% increase in telemedicine utilization from February 2020 to June 2020,” Dr. Traina reported. “In a given month, we have approximately 230,000 outpatient visits, and a substantial proportion of these are now done via telemedicine.”

Dr. Traina also noted that multiple organizations have released guidelines addressing when to resume anticancer therapy in patients who have been COVID-19 positive. Adherence is important, as unnecessary COVID-19 testing may delay cancer therapy and is not recommended.

Dr. Louis P. Voigt, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York

Dr. Louis P. Voigt

During a live discussion, Louis P. Voigt, MD, of MSKCC, said Dr. Traina’s presentation provided “a lot of good ideas for other institutions who may be facing similar challenges.”

Dr. Traina and Dr. Voigt disclosed no conflicts of interest. No funding sources were reported.

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