Proton therapy providers navigating COVID-19 cautiously

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | October 05, 2020
Rad Oncology Proton Therapy
From the October 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

“By June, because there were so many months that had gone by with patients not getting their mammograms, colonoscopies, PSAs or surgical biopsies, there were significantly fewer new diagnoses coming into the building,” said Dr. Charles Simone, chief medical officer of the New York Proton Center. “Plus, a lot of patients were still hesitant to come in for their care. So we did see a significant downturn in our patient volume in June and July before rebounding, really as all centers in New York did.”

While the New York Proton Center saw patient volume pick back up in August, out-of-state and international patients in many places still face barriers from travel lockdowns. The SCCA Proton Therapy Center in Seattle, for instance, treats a number of patients from British Columbia, Canada but border closures between the U.S. and Canada meant these patients couldn’t get the care they needed, (there are no proton therapy centers in Canada).

Telehealth has played a key role in keeping patient volumes down at the SCCA Proton Therapy Center.
"It stalled several patients coming from there," said Lindsay Knapp, associate administrator for the SCCA Proton Therapy Center. "While there haven’t necessarily been travel restrictions from places like Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington State, there has been quite a bit of anxiety, particularly in the earlier stages of the pandemic where patients would personally opt not to travel for treatment."

Another challenge was the shutdown of lodging companies. As popular venues that offer affordable or no-cost stays to cancer patients, such as Hope Lodges and Ronald McDonald House closed their doors, care providers had to network and forge new partnerships.

“NAPT has provided resources to proton centers, such as Airbnb programs through the Cancer Support Community,” said Jennifer Maggiore, executive director for the National Association for Proton Therapy. “We’ve educated our members with frequent community town hall meetings regarding the impact of COVID-19 on cancer treatments. Proton therapy facilities are also providing navigation services to ensure patients have the opportunity to travel throughout the pandemic for necessary treatments while receiving supportive resources.”

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