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


“It strictly stated that if you had the clinician — doctor, nurse or therapist on our end — wearing a surgical mask, and also the patient wearing a surgical mask, even if one individual is considered to be ultimately COVID-19 positive, that would be considered a low-risk contact,” he said. “And if there were other individuals that came into contact with that person who tested positive, they would be considered low-risk contacts and would not need to be quarantined. We took that strongly to heart and tried to enforce that every step of the way to ensure the utmost confidence in our patient safety protocol.”

In some cases, less urgent treatments could be delayed in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 while dedicating resources to the patients who required more immediate care. For SCCA in Seattle, this meant pushing back certain low-risk prostate cancer patients during the early outbreak in Washington.

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"They were deferred from starting treatment during March and April. We resumed treatment for those types of patients in May,” said Knapp. “A lot of local healthcare providers were working to minimize elective and non-urgent procedures in order to limit the number of people coming in and out of buildings, and to keep their staff safe and ready to go in the event that the Seattle area had a surge of COVID-19 cases and our specialists were needed to treat patients with urgent needs at other facilities.”

A nursing station at the SCCA Proton Therapy Center checks incoming patients for COVID-19 symptoms and provides hand sanitizer.
Relooking at practices and disparities in care
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created new hurdles for providing proton therapy, it has also shed light on challenges that have existed under the radar for a long time. This is especially true with regard to ensuring access for the patients who need it most, and improving awareness and education surrounding proton treatment and cancer screening in general.

“Patients that are underinsured may have limited access to advanced cancer treatments. Medicaid does not always cover some treatments covered by commercial insurances or even Medicare,” said Maggiore. “We need to support the development of proton therapy centers in other regions. It’s very difficult for people to leave their home and job for treatment not offered near them. If this treatment and other advanced treatments are available regionally, that will help patients access this treatment.”

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