Prioritizing cancer care amid COVID-19 pandemic

National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

A new study published in the journal JAMA Oncology offers a primer on priority setting in oncology and ethical guidance based on lessons learned from experience with cancer care priority setting in low-resource settings during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The guidance included six main observations. First, in the setting of limited resources, a utilitarian approach to maximizing survival benefit should guide decision-making. Second, conflicting principles will often arise among stakeholders and decision makers. Third, fair decision-making procedures should be established to ensure moral legitimacy and accountability. Fourth, proactive safeguards must be implemented to protect vulnerable individuals, or disparities in cancer treatment and outcomes will only widen further. Fifth, communication with patients and families about priority setting decisions should be intentional and standardized. Sixth, moral distress among clinicians must be addressed to avoid burnout during a time when resilience is critical, the researchers said.

COVID-19 has forced oncology clinicians and administrators in the United States to set priorities for cancer care because of resource constraints, the study said. As oncology practices adapt to a contracted healthcare system, expertise gained from partnerships in low-resource settings can be used for guidance.

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.