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Lockdown: ambulatory cancer care has remained stable

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(Vienna, 7 June 2021) Even during lockdown, the Division of Oncology within the Department of Medicine I of Vienna General Hospital and MedUni Vienna has managed to maintain ambulatory care of cancer patients. The number of patient contacts at the outpatient clinic did not fall during the first lockdown relative to the previous years 2018 and 2019. This is supported by a recent study. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures, there was a drop in the number of cancer diagnoses worldwide. It is first of all necessary to investigate the precise reasons for this. One of the suspected causes is that patients were afraid of becoming infected in hospital and some GP practices were closed or working on a restricted basis during the lockdown. However, there is no doubt that late diagnosis and delayed treatment represent a risk to the patients affected. Consequently, the international guidelines recommend that cancer treatments be continued for the majority of patients.

In order to determine whether a lockdown had an impact on ambulatory cancer care, a comparative analysis has been performed at the outpatient clinic of the Division of Oncology at the Department of Medicine I, under the supervision of Christoph Minichsdorfer and Thorsten Füreder. This analysis compared the number of patient contacts during the first lockdown (16 March to 29 May 2020) with the same period in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, the number of contacts with cancer patients in the emergency room of the Department of Emergency Medicine during the first lockdown was compared with the numbers from the preceding years. A total of 16,703 patient contacts from the years 2018 to 2020 were analysed.

The results show that there was no decline in the number of patient contacts at the outpatient clinic of the Division of Oncology of Vienna General Hospital and MedUni Vienna as a result of COVID-19. Matthias Preusser, Head of the Division of Oncology explains: "Ambulatory care of cancer patients was maintained at our high-volume department during lockdown. The outpatient clinic treats patients who need cytostatic chemotherapies, antibody therapies or blood products and performs lung punctures and ascitic tapping and any other infusion therapies that are required."

Patients with oncological emergencies are treated in Accident and Emergency. Together, the Division of Oncology and the Department of Emergency Medicine determined that there had been a fall of approximately 31% in the number of patient contacts during the first lockdown of 2020 compared to the previous years 2018 and 2019. The figure for 3-month mortality remained unchanged. However, it cannot be concluded from these findings that patients with oncological emergencies received poorer care during the first lockdown, stress the researchers, since oncological emergencies were also treated in other hospitals, for which no data are available.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, strict security and hygiene measures have been in place in the departments of Vienna General Hospital and MedUni Vienna.  

Service: European Journal of Clinical Investigation
"Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on routine oncology versus emergency care at a high volume cancer center" Minichsdorfer Christoph, Jeryczynski Georg, Krall Christoph, Achhorner Alina Magdalena, Caraan Ariane, Pasalic Sabina, Reininger Katharina, Wagner Christina, Bartsch Rupert, Preusser Matthias, Laggner Anton, Raderer Markus, Fuereder Thorsten

LINK: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eci.13623