After the Outbreak: Preparing for the Return of Cancer Cases

After The Outbreak Preparing For Return Of Cancer Cases Web

While shelter-in-place orders have limited many people across the US from leaving their homes to do more than buy groceries, cancer patients have faced a more daunting challenge—how to continue their treatment, potentially in different ways than they had planned (e.g., telehealth appointments). Others have experienced the initial symptoms of a new cancer (such as a new source of pain or discomfort) but, due to closures and restrictions for healthcare services, have been unable to initiate care.

Preliminary data from Harvard University researchers and Phreesia indicates a precipitous drop in outpatient volumes over a two-week period in mid-March. Oncology providers saw, on average, a 47% decline in outpatient visits during this period. Given the widespread disruption to healthcare services and the US economy, these figures are not surprising. With nearly 150,000 new cancer cases every month, there have probably been many new cases where patients were unable to initiate care. Data from Flatiron Health validates this assumption, reflecting an approximate 40% decline in new patient visits from early March to early April. Similar to the outpatient visit data shown above, the rate of new patient visits stabilized in April at a baseline level for the pandemic period.

With service disruptions for cancer programs lasting at least two months (mid-March to mid-May), it can be anticipated that there is a backlog nationally of approximately 120,000 new cancer patients. As cancer programs look to restart operations in the new environment, they must also account for how they will work through this backlog.

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