The lockdown has had its impact on practically every aspect of human life, particularly so for those who are immunocompromised owing to cancer or other debilitating diseases. Patients have also faced problems with availing diagnostic services, with recurrent delays in collection of samples and provision of test reports.
Several hospitals have been turning away new patients due to unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, the fear of contracting coronavirus owing to a compromised immune system has been weighing on the minds of the patients and caregivers alike.
New difficulties demand new solutions
In times like these, Onco.com has provided innovative ways of enabling the patients to continue with their planned treatment, reducing delays where possible, and connecting the patients to medical facilities from the safety of their homes.
For instance, a patient from Kolkata called Onco.com, wanting to consult an oncologist over the phone. His city was under strict lockdown and he had previously been seeking treatment at a government hospital.
He wanted to shift to another hospital mid-treatment, and wanted to consult an experienced oncologist to assess if this was a wise move. Onco.com immediately connected him to an experienced oncologist who studied his case and went through the pros and cons with him over the phone.
The patient and his caregiver were both satisfied with this consultation and decided to go ahead with the move to a hospital of their choice. A simple phone call is all it took for them to gain clarity on what their next course of action should be. They could make an informed decision, without loss of time or effort.
The above patient later contacted Onco.com when they could not source B+ blood for their surgery. The care manager activated local contacts to scout for a suitable donor. Fortunately, a donor was found just in time, and the surgery took place successfully.
Apart from medical supplies, financial concerns have also peaked during this period. Understandably, when one caregiver found a discrepancy of ten thousand rupees in his bill for chemotherapy, he reached out to us His care manager quickly coordinated with the hospital in question, to ensure that the disputed amount would be adjusted in the next invoice. This provided relief to the caregiver who was dependent on the Central Government Health Scheme to carry on the treatment.
The airlift from Silchar
Another example of the unusual situation caused by the lockdown is that of a patient who resides in Silchar and has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. He contacted Onco.com to seek advice on how to continue his treatment during the lockdown.
We provided him with several options of hospitals across the country, based on his type and stage of cancer. He chose to seek treatment at one of our recommended hospitals in Bengaluru.
Considering his ailment, and the restriction on travel across states, it was decided that the best way forward was to airlift the patient from Silchar to the hospital in Bengaluru. This was no small feat as multiple permissions had to be sought and received from DGCA, the central and state governments.
For this purpose referral letters from the hospital and the medical college in Silchar had to be provided within a short span of time. Our team managed to organise all of these, and a special flight was arranged to transport the patient within 24 hours.
The patient is now undergoing stipulated diagnostic tests and is awaiting surgery.
The information gap
More than the geographical distances, or travel bans, what patients and caregivers seem most affected by is the lack of information on what alternatives are available to them when their current treatment is delayed or put on hold.
For example, another patient who resides 150 kms outside Patna had been using Onco.com to book appointments with one of the most sought-after oncologists in the country. The patient had been travelling to Mumbai for treatment on a regular basis.
Once the lockdown came into effect, her family were at a loss with regards to alternative ways of continuing treatment.
Onco.com connected them with a hospital in Patna, which is relatively closer to them. By booking all appointments beforehand, Onco.com ensured that their visits to Patna during this time were hassle free and fruitful.
We also connected them with an oncologist in Patna over phone, for regular clarifications and consultations.
For a family that is already reeling under a diagnosis of cancer, every small help in the treatment process, be it booking of priority appointments, or receiving timely consultations with oncologists over the phone, goes a long way in reducing stress within the household.
The COVID-19 crisis affected cancer patients and their families in so many unexpected ways. Social media was saturated with questions from caregivers seeking information on how to continue with cancer care at this time. We created a one-stop platform to answer all these questions instantly, so that the required information reaches the needy without any monetary cost to them. This information, presented in the form of a chatbot, can be accessed safely, without loss of privacy or time.
The role of language
Such services have been particularly impactful for patients residing in districts, smaller towns and even villages. For example, when a caregiver from Ambedkarnagar in Uttar Pradesh called Onco.com, he had no idea how to get a travel pass to take his mother to the hospital.
Even after Onco.com provided him with a voucher that could be converted into a travel pass at the nearest police station, he struggled to communicate his requirement with the officials there.
So we stepped in to speak with the DM office and other concerned officials to ensure that the travel pass was made available within the shortest possible time. This enabled his family to travel to Lucknow to receive treatment.
His mother has now completed one out of four chemotherapy cycles and the family is relieved that they were able to initiate treatment without further delay.
Similarly, for a father who resides near Udaipur, no solution seemed obvious when his son began suffering from severe pain during the lockdown. The son was suffering from synovial carcinoma and the family did not know how to manage his pain at this time.
Onco.com connected him with an oncologist over the phone and remedial action was initiated immediately. For this family it was a blessing to be able to community in their regional dialect and receive the support they much required.
An online support group
Meanwhile, for all survivors, patients and caregivers who are stuck at home during this pandemic, Onco.com’s support group Talk Your Heart Out’s online sessions have provided some much needed relief.
The sessions take place on weekends and have participants from across the world logging in to partake in this fellowship. From sharing their success stories to encourage others, to posing queries on diet and fitness, this group has become the go-to solution for its members.
The latest session saw a cancer patient from Alaska sharing her story with other cancer fighters in India and around the globe, just two weeks after her last surgery. Having been a part of every session since she first discovered this group, she felt the need to share her overwhelming experience with this group at the first available opportunity.
The group also provides mentorship to those who need it by connecting them to a cancer survivor who has already made the journey. The survivor’s are called Onco Warriors and play the role of cheerleaders and counsellors to those who are still undergoing treatment.
This is a good way to ensure that no one feels like they are alone at this time, and everyone has at least one person they can call and speak to in their hour of need.
If you would like to be a part of this support group, do write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, no hurdle is too big for us to face and overcome.