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Rising to the Challenge of Cancer Care During COVID


By Tal Ben Yosef, Global Product Manager, Simplivia Healthcare Ltd.

As a healthcare industry worker, you’ve seen a lot of unexpected changes in the past year.

In 2019, word of the novel coronavirus and its potentially deadly effects began to trickle into the news. By March 2020, many countries were on lockdown. Months have gone by, and scientists are still working on a solution. Without a doubt, the impact of COVID-19 has extended into all aspects of daily life.

We now march to the beat of a “new normal," and it’s difficult to say where the pandemic’s effects will ultimately take us. Healthcare systems are not immune to the challenges presented by the pandemic, and nurses and pharmacists worldwide have had to adapt in creative ways to the changing landscapes we now face. One realm of healthcare that's been greatly affected is the field of cancer care during COVID.

Rising to the challenge.
Rising to the challenge.

The Disruption of Cancer Care During COVID-19

Cancer is a devastating illness that plagues many people all over the world. This makes oncology an extremely vital specialty. Yet sadly, cancer care and treatments have suffered widespread repercussions from the pandemic. For instance, some healthcare systems have had to adjust their treatment pathways, or even delay diagnoses and treatments of cancer in the COVID era. As the world deals with the new threat of COVID-19, many clinical trials have also been put on hold5.
Unfortunately, this means that discovery of new cancer treatments may be less likely to happen. On top of that, clinical trials can be a boon for those that get to participate in them, thus receiving cutting-edge treatment that wouldn't be available otherwise. But now, patients going through cancer aren't able to participate in these important trials like they may have been prior to the COVID-19 era.
Dealing with the new threat of COVID-19
Dealing with the new threat of COVID-19

The Dangers of COVID-19 Infection for Cancer Patients

What's most concerning about the issues surrounding the pandemic is that cancer patients tend to experience more severe outcomes if they do become ill with COVID-19. People fighting cancer are often immunocompromised because of the treatment regimens they have to undergo, making it harder for them to fight infections.

The American Journal of Clinical Oncology notes that cancer patients who hadundergone surgery or chemotherapy within 30 days before having a COVID infection were at a much higher risk of experiencing severe events from it1, such as greater need for ventilator support or even increased risk of mortality5. As an oncology provider, this is the last thing you'd ever want your patients to go through. And these events are obviously heartbreaking for patients and their families.

Chemotherapy in the Time of COVID-19

Given the vulnerability of patients going through cancer treatment, it’s no wonder that the number of patient visits and chemotherapy cycles decreased during the initial 2020 lockdowns. But this also meant that fewer cancer patients were receiving vital care during this time. And although the number of patients receiving treatment began to increase several months into the pandemic, so did the overall rates of COVID-193.

Clinics and hospitals are supposed to be sanitary safe zones. But even though healthcare providers work hard to keep their facilities as clean and safe as possible,every trip to the doctor holds the potential to expose patients to the dangerous COVID-19 pathogen. The risks and benefits of in-facility care have had to be weighed carefully.

Not only this, but it’s vital to use treatment pathways that support the safety of the medical professionals that care for cancer patients. Working with hazardous drugs such as those used in cancer treatment can pose serious health risks for healthcare workers, with or without COVID in the mix.

The Hidden Dangers of Hazardous Drugs

As an oncology nurse or oncology pharmacist, you’re on the frontlines of cancer care. The philosophy of “first, do no harm” is a principle that’s never far from your mind, and you care deeply about the patients you seek to heal. But not only are your patients often at higher risk for infection—you need to take precautions to reduce your own risk of occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Safe handling protocols are essential to healthcare workers who deal with dangerous drugs on a daily basis. Over time, exposure to chemicals such as those used in cancer treatment can lead to reproductive issues, skin irritation, respiratory problems, organ toxicity, and potentially even rare forms of cancer. What makes these drugs even more dangerous is that the effects of exposure are often not seen right away4.

So even though you may not notice any ill effects immediately, it can be very detrimental over time if you inhale these drugs as vapors, get them onto your skin, or end touch surfaces contaminated with them. Therefore, it's extremely important to protect yourself when you routinely work with toxic chemicals. How can you be confident you're protected, so you can continue to use your healing skills to take care of others?

Safe handling protocols are essential to healthcare workers
Safe handling protocols are essential to healthcare workers

How Oncology Nurses and Oncology Pharmacists Can Protect Themselves From Chemicals

When handling hazardous drugs, using personal protective equipment (PPE) isimperative. For instance, oncology providers should wear gloves that are tested to shield against chemotherapy drugs. Being mindful to follow your facility's policies onpersonal protection is important.

This may include wearing gowns or face masks if there is any risk of the drug splashing during use. If gloves become contaminated or torn, change them. Whether you're an oncology pharmacist compounding the drug or an oncology nurse administering it, you should always glove up, and wash your hands thoroughly after removing PPE. Surfaces that are exposed to hazardous drugs should also be frequently cleaned, while using PPE, since they can be a source of contact4.

CSTDs and Their Important Role in Cancer Treatment

Closed system transfer devices (CSTDs) are another valuable piece of the safety puzzle. CSTDs help keep oncology nurses and pharmacists safe from toxic drug exposure, through each step of the administration process. Simplivia's Chemfort™ vial adaptor, for example, is a CSTD which contains our patented Toxi-Guard aircleaning technology. The Toxi-Guard ensures that no harmful substances can escape the device.

Toxi-Guard mechanically prevents any vapors, chemicals, or even pathogens fromleaking into or out of the CSTD6. Whether you're the pharmacist compounding antineoplastic drugs or the nurse administering them, you can be reassured that Chemfort™ provides added protection from accidental drug exposure.

Not only this, but our CSTDs prevent any harmful pathogens from getting into the fluid pathway. Any air inside the device is sterile air. This means your patient won't have airborne pathogens getting into their drugs while receiving cancer care during COVID.
CSTDs help keep oncology nurses and pharmacists safe
CSTDs help keep oncology nurses and pharmacists safe

Managing Cancer Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic—and Beyond

The pandemic has presented healthcare professionals all over the world with unique problems to solve.

Home infusion pharmacies could present an answer to the problem of patient exposure in healthcare facilities. These pharmacies offer comprehensive in-home infusion treatments, which could be a blessing for some patients2. In addition to potentially decreasing risk of COVID-19 exposure, for those struggling with serious health issues, the option of in-home care is easier than traveling to a facility. And in the home setting, our Chemfort™ vial adaptor can provide an added layer of safety for pharmacists and nurses who care for these patients.

A bonus of Chemfort™ is that it's very easy to use, increasing your efficiency whether you’re working in a healthcare facility or in a patient’s home. It fits all standard vial sizes and allows for simple, safe drug transfers, through every step of the treatment pathway.

Rising to the Challenge of Cancer Care in the COVID Era

When it comes to cancer care during the COVID era, healthcare systems have had to come up with some new ways of doing things. But the pandemic doesn’t mean patients can’t continue to receive great care. High-quality medical devices can remove some risks of cancer therapy from the equation. Whether keeping pathogens out of the fluid pathway or keeping toxic drugs where they belong, our CSTDs help keep you shielded at work. Our medical devices are made to meet the highest quality standards in healthcare and come with a proven track record.

At Simplivia, we are committed to empowering oncology nurses and oncology pharmacists to deliver the safest, most effective care possible, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together, we can rise to meet the challenges we all face, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Visit our site to learn more about our products and how they could give you added peace of mind even during changing times.

Sources
1. Al-Quteimat, O., & Amer, A. The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cancer
Patients. American Journal of Clinical Oncology, April 2020.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340752977_The_Impact_of_the_COVID-19_Pandemic_on_Cancer_Patients
2. Milenkovich, N. Home Infusion Pharmacies Play Critical Role in COVID-19.
Pharmacy Times, July 2020.
3. Pandey, A., Rani, M., Chandra, N., et al. Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on cancer
care delivery : A Real World Experience. MedRxiv, September 2020.
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.09.01.20183145v1.article-info.
4. Preventing Occupational Exposure to Antineoplastic and Other Hazardous Drugsin Healthcare Settings.
https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-165/pdfs/2004-165.pdf?id=10.26616/NIOSHPUB2004165
5. Richards, M., Anderson, M., Carter, P., et al. The impact of the COVID-19
pandemic on cancer care. Nature Cancer, May 2020.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s43018-020-0074-y.
6. Simplivia Healthcare Ltd.

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