Jul 6, 2020
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) CEO Dr. Clifford A. Hudis is joined by Dr. Piyush Srivastava, the past chair of ASCO’s Clinical Practice Committee, in the newest ASCO in Action Podcast to discuss the recently released ASCO Special Report: A Guide to Cancer Care Delivery During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Dr. Srivastava was instrumental in developing the report, which provides detailed guidance to oncology practices on the immediate and short-term steps that should be taken to protect the safety of patients and healthcare staff before resuming more routine care operations during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
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Dr. Clifford Hudis: Welcome to this ASCO in Action podcast brought to you by the ASCO Podcast Network, a collection of nine programs covering a range of educational and scientific content and offering enriching insights into the world of cancer care. You can find all of the shows, including this one, at podcast.asco.org.
This ASCO in Action podcast is ASCO's series where we explore the policy and practice issues that impact oncologists, the entire cancer care delivery team, and the individuals we care for, people with cancer.
I'm Dr. Clifford Hudis, CEO of ASCO. And I'm the host of the ASCO in Action podcast series. I'm really pleased to be joined today by Dr. Piyush Srivastava, the past chair of ASCO's Clinical Practice Committee. Dr. Srivastava is also a practicing gastrointestinal oncologist, the regional medical director of the End of Life Options program, and the director of Outpatient Palliative Care at Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center in California.
Today, we're going to talk about the recently released ASCO Special Report: A Guide to Cancer Care Delivery During The COVID-19 Pandemic.
Dr. Srivastava was instrumental in developing the report. And we'll speak today about the guidance that the report provides for oncology practices as they return to more routine care delivery. Piyush, thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: Thank you, Dr. Hudis for taking the time to speak with me. Just before we start, I just want to say that I do not have any relationships to disclose. So, thank you.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: Thank you very much for joining us today. Now, just to provide some context, today as we speak, we're approaching month five of the COVID-19 public health crisis in the United States. We've had more than 2.15 million confirmed cases of the virus and well over 100,000 deaths.
In fact, as we record this today, several of the largest population states in the United States-- California, Texas, and Florida-- are just reporting their largest single-day increases in cases and the health care systems in some of their big cities are approaching the kind of near breaking point that we saw earlier in New York. So, the problem is still very much with us.
When the outbreak began, oncology practices nationwide immediately began making operational changes designed to protect the safety of patients and the safety of staff. This meant adjusting to resource shortages that were unfolding and complying with national and state restrictions on elective procedures, among many other things.
Today, communities across the country are in varying states of recovery. And as I just described, some of them actually are probably pausing their recovery right now. Either way, they are facing a real transition in terms of oncology practice. And some are returning to something more like routine care while continuing to be acutely attuned to protecting the health and safety of both patients and staff.
So, Dr. Srivastava, could you start us off and tell our listeners just a little bit about what's happening in your own practice and how you have been adapting to the changing circumstances?
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: Of course. I would be very honored to share my experiences at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. So, at the start of the pandemic, we were very fortunate to be nicely set up to provide care remotely. We've had a very strong existing telehealth structure. So, we were quickly able to adapt to the pandemic situation.
Initially, we nearly went 100% remote, with doing all of our new consults and chemo checks via video visits and telephone visits. If a patient needed some more attention, to be seen by a care practitioner, many times that we would coordinate with the on-call physician on site, who would see the patient on the chemotherapy infusion chair.
We also looked as an institution which services we could provide remotely and take off site and so that we didn't need to bring the patients into the cancer center. For example, we activated our home health nursing team to be able to provide port flushes in the home setting.
We also made a very conscientious effort to see what treatments and what procedures that we could postpone or actually decrease the frequency or increase the timing in between events. For example, bisphosphonate administration and port flushes, which we increased to do every three months.
What was extremely eye opening and inspiring to me is a large organization such as Kaiser Permanente was extremely nimble and flexible and was able to respond to the outside pressures. I believe, when I speak to my colleagues across the country, that many people experienced the same things with their institutions. And their institutions responded very flexibly to the ongoing pandemic.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: Thanks very much. It's really interesting, I think for me, and I'm sure for many of our listeners, to hear how you adapted but also to compare that with their own experiences. It sounds to me like some of the key features were clear eye on the safety of patients and staff but also having a structure that respected the needs of the clinicians from the beginning. And then, of course, understood that the flexibility overall was a key attribute. And I just think that's something that many people will be reflecting on.
As we hit it from that one in a sense, forgive me, but anecdote, which is how one center, one operation adapted, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about ASCO's role in providing the more general guidance that you helped to develop. Why did this society feel it was necessary to provide guidance at that level?
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: Yes. So, as we are all extremely aware, many individual health care professionals, institutions, and health systems look to ASCO for mentorship when it comes to oncology care. So, this current pandemic was no different. I believe ASCO felt a strong duty and a responsibility to partner with the oncology world to ensure the highest quality and efficiency of cancer care and delivery through this pandemic.
Also, the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lack of really clear guidance from federal and state agencies. So, cancer care providers and administrators looked to ASCO to help develop their plans of providing care during the pandemic. Now, also opening and ramping up as well, they're looking to us.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: I see. So, as we think about staff at ASCO headquarters, it's really pretty straightforward on a daily basis. Our decisions to open headquarters, for example, or not are predicated, number one, on the safety of our staff. So, when you look at the Special Report, what would you say was the one or the several overarching goals that drove the development of the Special Report?
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: So, when constructing the report, we did very much realize that there are so many varied practices across the country, really around the world, right? For example, we have small rural practices. We have medium-sized private practices. We have academic centers, and we have hospital systems. And all these organizations look to ASCO for cancer guidance and guidance to cancer care delivery.
By no way were we going to be able to solve individual operational care delivery issues for each practice. So, the Special Report is made to serve, if you will, as a starting point or a launching pad for individual institutions to develop their own policies and operational adjustments.
So, what I would like to do now is maybe just dive a little bit deeper into some of the specific policies and practices that were outlined in the report. And as I look at it, it was really broken down into stages of patient care.
So, for example, before a patient even arrives on site, many practices are in a sense pre-screening them or triaging them. What are some of the methods that you have seen put into place and that have been effective that we should recommend to practices just getting open?
So, the Special Report lists out very clearly sequential steps to consider in safely bringing patients into cancer centers. And I'll highlight a few of them, which I feel is extremely important. The first step is to actually reach out to the patient well before their scheduled visit to the cancer center. So, if we can call these patients and family members well before their visit, we can educate them as to the process that they'll experience when they come into the cancer center.
Allow them to ask questions and to give the reasoning behind or the why to we are doing this. I think that will go a long way. So transparent communication, I think, will reduce anxiety and fear.
I also believe an effective second step was to do a quick check in, anywhere from 12 to 48, 72 hours prior to the actual visit, depending on what your operations would allow, just to check in to make sure that you're screening for the COVID symptoms and the patient doesn't test positive to any of those symptoms.
I may just add also in the first step, when you reach out to the patient well before their appointment, that's also a good time to screen for COVID questions. And then a third implementation can be as a single point of entry.
So, when a patient comes into the cancer center, there's one point of entry so that way a temperature could be checked, a patient could be screened again for those COVID symptom questions. And so that when that patient arrives inside the cancer center, there's been essentially three checks and balances of checking for COVID-19 symptoms.
So, this provides obviously the safety to minimize the risk of bringing COVID into the cancer center. But I also think an extremely important added benefit is that the staff and providers will feel confident and safe that the institution has done these many different steps to ensure their safety as well and to minimize their risk of exposure to COVID.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: I see. So that's one part of this. Now, the implication in all of this is the volume coming through the clinics is likely to be lower. And one of the ways in which it is controlled, of course, is through the reduction of less critical face-to-face encounters and arguably an increase in telemedicine. What are some of the considerations that you think oncology practices should factor into their use of telemedicine in care delivery?
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: Yeah. That's actually a fantastic question, because telemedicine has really-- well, telemedicine was forced upon most institutions. And the institutions had to really find an effective way to provide care remotely. So, it's a very interesting and important topic. For example, I think one thing that I personally struggled with, and I think my institution struggled with is, who is the right patient for telemedicine?
So, the report talks about specific patient categories that you can think of that would be easier to provide patient care remotely. So, for example, those that are not requiring in-person physical exam, those who may not actually actively be getting chemo treatment, those that don't need any in-office diagnostics. So, don't necessarily need lab work tied to that appointment or you don't necessarily need imaging exams at that moment.
Other visits that the report recommends to think about is follow up. So, follow up could be done through telemedicine. Or those that are on oral oncolytic treatments. And so, it's a quick check in just to make sure that they're taking the medication and the adherence is high could be done by video or by phone.
A couple of things to consider with telemedicine, obviously, is the audio and visual capabilities. And so even in the Bay Area in California, we do have spots that don't have the best reception. And so that can become problematic. So that's something to also think about.
The other sort of counterbalance or countermeasure to this is just to make sure that patients feel that they're being taken care of and they feel satisfied. So in my own practice, I've now adopted that when we finish a video visit or we finish a telephone visit, I let the patient know that I have felt comfortable with the interaction and that I felt that I was able to accomplish the care plan and execute the care plan as needed by the video and phone. But then I ask them, do they feel comfortable and are they OK proceeding this way or do they prefer face-to-face visit.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: Yeah. I think that's an interesting observation about telemedicine. I think everybody is feeling their way right now and learning. And we want to be careful not to go too far away from the direct physical encounter since so much can be lost without those subtle cues from body language and classic physical findings as well. Now, coming back once more to the workforce, the report addresses how we maintain a healthy workforce.
And it specifically, I think, gets into questions of testing and scheduling and even dealing with stress. Can you walk through that a little more about antibody testing or saliva or nasal swabs and the frequency and exactly what facilities and practices should be thinking about for their staff?
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: Sure. And this is an extremely hot topic, and the interesting thing about this topic is it can vary widely just depending on what's available at that moment in your location, what the county is ordaining and what the state is ordaining as well. So, there's a bit of variability.
But what the Special Report does very nicely, it lays out considerations for institutions to think about when they are caring for the workforce, both physically and emotionally. So, this Special Report lays out some PPE guidelines, and really, it's based on what the CDC is recommending.
And as we know, as one of the largest sort of scientific research-based organizations, it's important that we bring the CDC's sentiment forward when we talk about PPE, especially with PPE stewardship as this goes on for some time, we may have some issues with the supply chain.
The other thing the Special Report calls out is to really have institutions make sure that they are putting their health care practitioners in the forefront. So, checking in with health care practitioners to make sure that they are not ill, that they're feeling OK, that they haven't been exposed to anybody outside of the medical system. And I think what's really, really special about this report is that it really talks to the practitioner's well-being. I think this is scary for any provider in the front line.
We are also worried about our own health and what we can bring back to our loved ones outside of the medical center. But also, I think all of us as oncology providers are feeling a little disillusioned and a little saddened, because we are not able to provide oncology care like we normally have been.
And so that's a huge adjustment for the oncology provider. And of course, that comes with some moral distress. So, the report also calls out for institutions to check in with their health care providers to make sure that their emotional well-being is good and to also make sure that they feel that their family and loved ones are safe at home. So, I think that was a really added benefit.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: Yes. Really important to acknowledge the importance of all of that to the individuals. And it is not just about narrowly the safety of the surfaces and workspaces they're in, but really in a sense their holistic experience in life. I want to turn to the broad public approach to cancer care and focus on the corners that we cut, if you will, in going into this crisis, the compromises with old ways of doing things that we very quickly adopted.
The report focuses on some of those immediate short-term steps that we took. And I think looking at the effectiveness of that, I can tell you that I asked the ASCO leadership on the staff side and on the volunteer side why those adaptations couldn't just be our new permanent normal.
That is to say, if it was safe enough to do telehealth in April of 2020, why isn't it safe enough to do it forever? So that was the nidus of our Road to Recovery Task Force. And I know you sit on the group focused on care delivery. What do you think we can expect from that effort?
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: Yeah. And this is fantastic. I am honored to be sitting on the Road to Recovery Task Force, because I think this is an issue that's facing every oncology care provider in the country and, frankly, around the globe. And the task force is composed of a group of really active and very intelligent oncology providers who are putting their minds together collaboratively to see how we can continue to provide cancer care in an efficient and in a high-quality manner moving forward beyond the pandemic.
And as you said very nicely, Dr. Hudis, we have gained several insights through our care over the last few months, and can we harness those insights and continue to practice oncology in a very efficient and high-quality manner?
So, the task force is extremely comprehensive. The group is addressing several buckets, if you will, that are very pertinent to oncology care and delivery. So, they're looking at health equity. They're looking at resetting clinic and patient appointments.
They're looking at practice operations, telemedicine, home infusion. I know that's something that we've all been grappling with. Financial assistance to practices, which is extremely important when we look at the economy around us.
Quality reporting and measurements. So, we want to make sure-- we want to challenge ourselves to make sure that we are practicing the highest-quality cancer care that we can. Utilization management. So that's also extremely important as we are looking at the economy around us.
Psychosocial impact on patients. So, this has been obviously extremely traumatic for patients in their very vulnerable state. The task force also is looking at provider well-being, which once again, I can't reinforce how important that is as we go back into somewhat normal operations, whatever that normal may be, but looking at the sort of stress that the providers are feeling in that.
And then ongoing preparedness I think, which is extremely essential, because we just don't know what the virus will do over the next year and what might also come in the future. So, the task force is extremely collaborative, extremely thorough. And it is a group of very active individuals on oncology care that are bringing their brilliant minds together to come up with some guidance.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: Well, I think that's really great. As we wrap up now, I wonder if at the highest level if there's a single or several major takeaways that you want listeners and our entire community to take away from these recommendations?
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: Yeah. You know, I've actually had some time to reflect. It's been a very privileged experience for me to be a part of this and to be a listener and to be a learner from all these brilliant minds around me who are putting their heads together to accomplish this. I find that recommendations in the Special Report to be very thoughtful and very comprehensive.
I do hope practices remember that these are actually guidelines to help them develop and change policies at individual institutions. I also hope that oncology practitioners and administrators remember that we're all in this together. And so, there is going to be an ever-changing environment.
So, I hope that this report is just a start of a collaboration that can be ongoing with ASCO and with oncology providers around the world. I am fully confident that ASCO is a tremendous and a large resource for us in the oncology world to be able to accomplish collaboration and to actually uplift and maintain cancer care during and after the pandemic.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: Well, that's really, I think, is nice and as great and complete a summary as one could hope to hear. So I want to thank you, Dr. Srivastava, for speaking with me today. I'm really grateful to you for your time on this whole initiative and the effort that you've put to it as well as, of course, for the time today.
Dr. Piyush Srivastava: I appreciate it. It has been a great honor. And so, thank you very much to you, Dr. Hudis, and thank you very much to the ASCO staff, who do a tremendous job on a daily basis to make sure that we are doing the best we can.
Dr. Clifford Hudis: So, the Special Report, and later, ASCO's Road to Recovery, are all part of ASCO's larger commitment to providing information, guidance, and resources that will support clinicians, the cancer care delivery team, and patients with cancer, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and then well beyond it.
We invite listeners to participate in the ASCO survey on COVID-19 in Oncology Registry or ASCO registry. This is a project where we are collecting and then sharing insights on how the virus impacts cancer care and cancer-patient outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We encourage all oncology practices to participate so that we will have the largest possible data set and represent the full diversity of patients and practices across the United States.
I'll remind you that you can find all of our COVID-19 resources and much more at asco.org. And until next time, I want to thank everyone for listening to this ASCO in Action podcast.
If you enjoyed what you heard today, please don't forget to give us a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. And while you're there, be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. The ASCO in Action podcast is just one of ASCO's many podcasts. And you can find all of the shows at podcast.asco.org.