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By Christian Downs, JD, MHA
Over the last several months, COVID-19 has been our focus globally, nationally, locally, and personally.
While it is too soon to comprehend all of the lessons learned from the pain, suffering, deaths, and devastation the novel coronavirus 2019 has unleashed, we know that COVID-19 has stopped everyday life in its tracks and brought about—at least for the time being—a new normal.
For those in the oncology community, the weapons deployed against COVID-19 are familiar: research, education, prevention, screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. In the face of COVID-19, every one of us depends on our clinician scientists, multidisciplinary teams, and front-line healthcare professionals to educate, diagnose, treat, and care for us. During this time of COVID-19, each of us has had to adjust to a new normal, follow healthcare mandates, and accept uncertainty. Learning to live with uncertainty is something with which individuals who have had a diagnosis of cancer are very familiar.
COVID-19 has given us a harsh, real-time understanding of why population health is a critical issue in our communities, cities, states, nations, and the world. If the importance of our healthcare infrastructure was ever in question, COVID-19 has provided clarity. Modernizing our healthcare delivery system is essential. During recent months, our hospitals, clinics, physician practices, and healthcare workforce have been on the front lines, caring not only for COVID-19 positive patients, but also for those with acute and ongoing chronic illnesses that cannot wait for treatment.
Cancer programs and practices in communities large and small have responded to this pandemic by sharing information and effective practices; leveraging telemedicine and telehealth; and implementing workflows, policies, and new procedures to keep cancer patients and staff as safe as possible while minimizing disruptions in care. Every segment of the oncology ecosystem has had to quickly adapt and innovate to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on patients with cancer.
Professional societies have opened access to content in clinical journals and on their websites. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and other federal agencies are working to provide ongoing updates on evolving changes to policy, regulations, and reporting requirements in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are providing information for providers and the public on prevention, treatment, and progress to curb the spread of COVID-19; critical updates on the management of oncology clinical trials in the midst of the epidemic; information about the drug supply chain; and more.
The Association of Community Cancer Center (ACCC) Coronavirus Response Page brings together links to the latest information from ASCO, ASH, APhA, ASHP, ASTRO, NASEM, NCCN, ONS, SITC, and others. ACCC mobilized to create a weekly COVID-19 webcast series; brief, actionable mini-podcast episodes with practical information to help the cancer care team in their day-to-day work; and more. ACCC members continue to support one another, post peer-to-peer questions, and share strategies on the ACCCExchange online forum.
When Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) addressed the ACCC 46th Annual Meeting & Cancer Center Business Summit in early March 2020, she reminded attendees that “for every one of us, healthcare is not political. It's personal.” In her remarks, Senator Stabenow urged oncology professionals to stay engaged in policy and advocacy: “When you speak up, people listen. You can and must remain engaged and help us move forward in a positive way. I know this can be done.”
Going forward, the oncology community must focus on what can be done to protect and modernize our healthcare and oncology care delivery infrastructure. We know that—working together—this can be done.
Christian Downs is the Executive Director of the Association of Community Cancer Centers.