As governments around the world try to manage the spread of and find treatments for the deadly COVID-19 virus, there is a delicate balance between managing the spread of the pandemic and restarting our economy. The consequences are dire for mishandling this equilibrium, but the primary goal is to advocate for patients and healthcare workers amid challenging circumstances.
One of the most critical elements in managing this deadly virus centers on protecting the most vulnerable—the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, and the immunocompromised. A key group among those with compromised immune systems is cancer patients, and this virus is often preventing them from receiving life-sustaining treatments.1
According to a new report from IQVIA, approximately 33.5% of cancer patients may see a delay in treatment due to COVID-19, with delays in surgeries and a reduced number of biopsies and diagnoses being cited as the main causes of lack of access, followed by delays in chemotherapy and fewer patient referrals from specialists to hematologists/oncologists.1
The biggest changes expected for cancer patients over the next several months include strict visitor policies and a shortage of critical blood products, according to the same report. Oncology specialists report a decline of 44% in patients seen per week, while 64% of oncologists see a dip in the initiation of cancer treatment by patients.1
So it is truly a grave conundrum for cancer patients: choosing to shelter in place and quarantine to protect themselves from COVID-19, or accessing life-sustaining medicine to treat their cancer.
As governments, states and communities agree on the processes for reopening the economy, more choices will be available for these patients. But now, even as all attention is focused on mitigating the crisis at hand, cancer waits for no one, and patients are looking for other channels to find answers to their specific medical questions, how to access treatment, get second opinions on test results, and where to turn for support.
This is where virtual patient communities can help. Whether a cancer patient is newly diagnosed, in the middle of treatment, seeking a clinical trial, or in recovery and ready to lend support to others, they need a trusted resource that can provide them with the right answers at the right time. Online patient communities support cancer patients at every stage of their disease and treatment with on-demand access to the information and education they need. These communities provide information about their diagnosis, emotional support from other patients, and relevant clinical insights from multi-disciplinary care teams. Through these virtual communities, patients can engage with healthcare providers to get clear answers to their most pressing questions.
Newly diagnosed patients may be scared and in need of answers. Maybe they need to understand the side effects of treatments or learn more about their options. Those in mid-treatment need to understand how they can receive the life-sustaining medicines they need—what facilities are open and how they can safely navigate the process of securing their treatments without subjecting themselves to unnecessary risks. Some patients may need to find clinical trials, or better understand the consequences of missing or delaying treatments.
Fortunately, this kind of online resource is already working through Belong Life, IQVIA’s partner in Orchestrated Patient Engagement and a virtual patient community solution. The Belong – Beating Cancer Together app has more than 300,000 users, 84% of whom said the app helped them feel less alone, and 80% of whom said the app helped them feel better prepared for medical consultations. As we join the global effort to proactively fight COVID-19, we are equally committed to helping patients—including those with cancer—find creative ways to access the information, education and care they need.
The world has changed. We are here to help. As the Human Data Science company, IQVIA is ready to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 today and provide hope for the future.
1 IQVIA pulse survey of oncologists and hematologists (n=73) in the US conducted April 3-15, 2020.