Published on October 27, 2020
How COVID-19 is Highlighting Healthcare Disparities
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to affect day-to-day life, cancer care and the overall health and well-being of many. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recently concluded their 2020 Quality Care Symposium where compelling research was announced regarding race, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), cancer and patient outcomes. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of color and addressing this issue is a step toward health equity.
Healthcare Disparities Study
A recent study of more than 477,000 patients with cancer showed that Black and Hispanic patients with cancer were more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than white patients. The reasons for this are socioeconomic; having essential jobs that require public exposure, lack of health care access and chronic health issues play a role.1 Throw a cancer diagnosis into the mix and the outcomes worsen. How can systems improve?
“Generally, people in racial and ethnic minority groups have been shown to have a higher incidence of COVID-19 and worse outcomes,” said Sonali M. Smith, MD, ASCO expert in a news release.2 “It’s important for health care providers, caregivers, and Black patients to be aware of the potential increased risk of hospitalization due to the virus.”
This is especially concerning for patients at risk for or diagnosed with, lung cancer and other lung diseases since COVID-19 can cause pneumonia. Not only do health care professionals need to advocate for every patient, but the message should also be that everyone deserves equitable health care, from prevention to early detection.
Disparities in Telehealth Use
In another study, researchers looked at the use of telehealth between March 1 and June 1 of this year to see what the demographics were of people seeking health care online or by phone in the New York City area.3
A total of 7,681 patients had a telehealth visit during this time. The patients using telehealth were in the following demographic categories:
- White (48 percent)
- Black (19 percent)
- Hispanic (6 percent)
- Asian (7 percent)
In comparison, all patients seen through the health system in 2019:
- White (42 percent)
- Black (23 percent)
- Hispanic (14 percent)
- Asian (7 percent)
The study authors concluded that Black and Hispanic patients in the New York City area were less likely to use telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. They recommended additional research be done to compare these numbers to those of other healthcare systems.
Importance of Increasing Telehealth Access
There has been a major increase in the use of telehealth across the globe since 2019, and it’s important to increase access to things like WiFi to enable more people to safely get their health needs met without having to travel and risk further illness. This is especially important in heavily populated areas like New York City, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. The researchers emphasized the importance of this effort because, as they wrote in the related scientific abstract, there is likely to be a second or third wave of the novel coronavirus.
How Many People Have Died from COVID-19?
In the United States, 210,886 people have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.4 These were not all people with cancer, but many had underlying conditions. As we head into the winter months, it’s important to stay vigilant: wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance when you leave your home.
Symptoms vary but may include one or more of the following:
- fever or chills
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- muscle or body aches
- loss of taste or smell
- sore throat
- congestion or runny nose
- nausea or vomiting
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
The American Cancer Society provides a list of questions to ask your doctor during your next visit:
- If I get COVID-19, will it affect the outlook or prognosis of my cancer?
- If I get tested and I'm negative for coronavirus, can I still get infected later on?
- Will this outbreak delay or affect my care in any way?
- Can any of my care be safely delayed?
- Do you offer telehealth appointments?
Thank You to Our First Responders
The unsung heroes of this global pandemic are the people on the front lines. Thank you to the nurses, doctors, medical and administrative staff, and other healthcare workers; the firefighters, police officers and other first responders; the Secret Service officers who protect government employees; our military; the delivery workers, food providers, teachers, clergy, and everyone who has to go to work in person. We thank you all.
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1CancerLinQ Data Reveals Black and Hispanic Patients With Cancer Face Greater Risk of COVID-19 Infection. ASCO.
2Black Patients With Cancer May Be at Increased Risk for COVID-19 Hospitalization. ASCO.
4Coronavirus Resource Center. Johns Hopkins University.
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