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Conference Coverage

Digital Care Delivery Models and Staffing Concerns Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 04, 2021

A panel at the virtual Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) 47th Annual Meeting & Cancer Center Business Summit shared real-world experiences on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer care delivery.

The panel was moderated by Leigh Boehmer, PharmD, BCOP, Medical Director, ACCC. Beside Dr Boehmer were six health care professionals with diverse perspectives from around the United States: Sibel Blau, MD, Northwest Medical Specialties, Puyallup, Washington; David Dougherty, MD, MBA, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts; Luis M Isola, Mount Sinai Health System, Tisch Cancer Institute, New York, New York; Mary Miller, MSN, RN-BC, OCN, Franciscan Health Cancer Center Indianapolis; Indiana; Jody Pelusi, PhD, FNP, AOCNP, Honor Health Research Institute, Scottsdale, AZ; and Adam Riker, MD, FACS, Anne Arundel Medical Center, DeCesaris Cancer Institute, Annapolis, MD.

These experts discussed telehealth and digital care delivery models, as well as staffing hurdles faced by cancer centers and health systems.

Dr Isola discussed the rapid uptake of telehealth visits at Mount Sinai Tisch Cancer Institute at the start of the pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, the number of telehealth visits seen by the cancer center was small. In March, about 600 telehealth visits were conducted and, by April, this number rose to about 3000.

“Obviously, telehealth is here to stay and telehealth has now become part of the fabric of the care that we provide at our cancer center,” said Dr Isola.

Mount Sinai was recently awarded federal funding to start a COVID-19 telehealth program to ensure cancer patients stay connected during the pandemic. The funds of this grant are being used to supply tablets and remote monitoring licenses to patients to facilitate the connection to the cancer center.

“This really provided us with a wealth of new data that we did not have access to before, ranging from vitals to oxygen saturation. This has really increased the ability of the cancer center to deliver more and more of our care remotely at home, and really we hope it's going to make a big difference in the life of our patients,” Dr Isola said.

Dr Riker mentioned the increase in enrollment of online accounts, via MyChart, for patients to access their medical records during the pandemic. Dr Dougherty validated this point, citing an increase from 15-20% enrollment in MyChart accounts prior to the pandemic to upwards of 60% enrollment at some locations present day.

“I think the byproduct of that is that it has armed our patients with a higher degree of self-efficacy for managing their care through technology and so forth,” said Dr Dougherty.

Lastly, Dr Blau discussed one measure her practice took to address the rapid switch to telehealth, which was hiring technology coordinators to provide telehealth access and support via iPads to patients at home.

This lead the panel into the next topic, which was the impact of the rapid switch to telehealth on staffing.

Dr Boehmer noted pay cuts, salary freezes, staff reassignments, and a general fear of catching or spreading COVID-19 as a few of the burdens faced by cancer center staff over the past year, in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Mary Miller emphasized the strain that COVID-19 placed on the nursing staff at her cancer center. With increased demand in other units in the hospital, oncology nursing staff dropped from 26 nurses to 4 at the start of the pandemic.

In an effort to keep staff informed, Miller started a video program where she addresses staff concerns and provides updates on pertinent information. This has helped staff better understand the effects the pandemic has had on the health system overall and how this impacts the bottom line. Though, staffing concerns are still ongoing.—Janelle Bradley


Blau S, Miller M, Isola L, Riker A, et al. Cancer Care in the COVID-19 Era. Presented at: ACCC 47th Annual Meeting & Cancer Center Business Summit. March 1, 2021.

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