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Pediatric proton treatment in the age of COVID

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 14, 2022
Rad Oncology Pediatrics Proton Therapy
From the March 2022 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

“Single room facilities are not likely to have the pediatric infrastructure, including pediatric nursing and social workers needed to handle these cases. In addition they are not likely to have the pediatric anesthesia and associated recovery team needed for treating children under 5-6 years of age,” said Stuart Klein, executive director of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

As a result, the emotional, psychological and financial tolls can be much for young patients and their families. To help, proton therapy centers often employ social workers who can work with families to arrange affordable lodging, as well as transport to the facility. They can also suggest activities for them to do around town.

“If they are coming from one of the local hospitals, they often already have social work support from those facilities,” said Mangona, whose facility primarily serves patients in North Texas. “We do have kids coming from West Texas who are not already plugged into hospitals here. For them, we have a patient services coordinator who helps coordinate lodging, such as with Ronald McDonald House. We also have relationships with hotels and other extended state facilities for children and their families to help accommodate them for treatment.”

He adds that while proton therapy is almost universally approved for pediatric patients, referral and prior authorization processes take time and can often delay desired starting dates for treatment. “We have to wait for a fax or mail. There’s not really a phone number to call to expedite things when they need to be sped up. We can be waiting weeks.”

What more we need to do
Despite the tremendous benefits of proton therapy, the treatment is not “magic,” according to Dr. Anita Mahajan. She says more needs to be done to relay its advantages and limitations to not just the public but members in the larger field of radiation oncology all together, especially where children are involved. “There are still side effects and there has to be good communication between the radiation oncologist and the referring oncologists and the surgeons to understand exactly how the radiotherapy will fit in with the surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments that are required.”

Indelicato says that for children, expanding access to treatment requires not more technology but more personnel trained to facilitate their unique needs. “It’s the resources surrounding the technology, specifically the subspecialized doctors, including the pediatric radiation oncologist, the anesthesiologist, the chemotherapy teams, the surgeons, the physical therapists, the pediatric recovering rooms, personnel bump, social workers and support on set.”

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