This descriptive investigation was undertaken at three oncology units to report queries, needs, and fears related to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (COVID-19) of patients with cancer and to avoid uncontrolled treatment delays or withdrawal, behavioral mistakes, and panic.
All queries spontaneously delivered through the WhatsApp instant messaging system commonly used by patients to communicate with oncology units were collected and grouped by homology in five categories. Responses to the queries were given according to recommendations by the Italian Association of Medical Oncology through WhatsApp and by subsequent phone calls. Patients were also classified according to the site of the primary tumor, stage of disease, and current treatments. Analysis of the association between these data and queries was carried out.
The social scenario in Italy is a nationwide lockdown except for hospitals, pharmacies, and food supplies. Overall, 446 different patients' WhatsApp conversations were analyzed between March 1 and March 13 and comprised the following: requirement of visit delay by patients undergoing oral therapies or in follow-up, delays in chemotherapy or immunotherapy administration, queries about possible immunosuppression, and changes in lifestyle or daily activities. Delay requirements were statistically more frequent among patients with prostate or breast cancer compared with those with lung or pancreatic cancer. Actions taken by oncologists are also reported.
To our knowledge, the WhatsApp instant messaging system has been occasionally used in other medical settings with controversial results. In our experience, WhatsApp turned out to be adequate to give a rapid answer to most queries from patients with cancer in the COVID-19 pandemic scenario.
JCO global oncology. 2020 May [Epub]
Vittorio Gebbia, Dario Piazza, Maria Rosaria Valerio, Nicolò Borsellino, Alberto Firenze
Medical Oncology Unit, La Maddalena Clinic for Cancer, Palermo, Sicily, Italy., GSTU Foundation for Urologic Tumors, Palermo, Sicily, Italy., Medical Oncology Unit, Policlinic "P. Giaccone," University of Palermo, Palermo, Sicily, Italy., Medical Oncology Unit, Ospedale Buccheri La Ferla, Palermo, Sicily, Italy., Department of Internal Medicine "Promise," University of Palermo, Palermo, Sicily, Italy.