Scheduling appointments during COVID-19

Dr Kgomotso Mzimba informs us which appointments and treatments you should schedule during COVID-19, and which can be delayed.


Two months ago, it was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was so much uncertainty and anxiety as we attempted to navigate through our new normal: face masks, hand sanitiser, social distancing and lockdown.

When lockdown was implemented, it affected a lot of health services. Many treatments had to be scaled down, from elective theatre lists being cancelled to appointments having to be rescheduled. This also meant that cancer treatment had to be scaled down nationally.

It is becoming apparent that COVID-19 will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Even with the number of daily infections decreasing and lockdown restrictions being eased, it will still take a while for things to go back to what we knew as normal. 

For cancer patients, this might add an extra layer of worry as any further delays in treatment may affect survival outcomes. 

Therefore, it’s imperative as a cancer patient/survivor to know which appointments and treatments you can schedule during lockdown, and which can be delayed.

Appointments

With regards to appointments, you should always discuss these with a patient navigator as they will help you prioritise appointments and reschedule those that have already been booked. 

Appointments can be categorised into three different groups. The first group is immediate appointments that can neither be moved or postponed. These appointments must be done in person. An example of this is any new symptoms or possible signs of recurrence of cancer. You will need to come in and be examined by the doctor and may also need further investigations, such as imaging. 

The second group is semi-urgent. These appointments are important but can be moved to a later time (within two-three weeks), or alternatively they can be done telephonically. An example would be an issue with the side effects due to the medication. Blood tests that aren’t urgent and imaging can fall into this group as well. 

The third group of appointments, not of immediate importance, could potentially be rescheduled for a later date (one to two months). Examples of these are annual bloods, imaging and routine follow-up for cancer survivors. 

The collection of medication would also fall under this group unless your medication has run out then it would be immediate. Medication can also be given for a longer period, with more repeats to mitigate the need to return to the health practice for a repeat script. 

The general principle during COVID-19 is to try to reduce the number of people at any given time in a hospital or practice to minimise the risk of spread of infection. Appointments should therefore be categorised appropriately. 

Surgeries and interventional procedures

In state hospitals, many elective procedures are being cancelled, and the number of cases that are being seen to are scaled down and only emergency procedures are done. 

This means that you may have an operation that was scheduled being postponed and rescheduled for a later time. Surgeries will be prioritised according to the risk.  

In contrast, not many elective procedures are being cancelled In private hospitals. However, the urgency of your procedure will be determined by your surgeon, taking into account the type of cancer and lesion you have. Higher-risk lesions will be treated as emergencies and there will be no delays. 

Chemotherapy and radiation

These appointments should be discussed with your oncologist and the best plan can be made for you. This will also be dependent on the type of cancer and the stability of the cancer. Your oncologist will discuss the options with you. The same should apply in the state sector, and more care should be taken to ensure that you don’t get lost to follow-up.  

Dr Kgomotso Mzimba is a primary oncology care physician/survivorship specialist. She did her undergrad at UCT and post-graduating she spent time working at Helen Joseph Hospital Breast Clinic. She currently works at Netcare Milpark Breast Care Centre of Excellence.

MEET THE EXPERT – Dr Kgomotso Mzimba

Dr Kgomotso Mzimba is a primary oncology care physician/survivorship specialist. She did her undergrad at UCT and post-graduating she spent time working at Helen Joseph Hospital Breast Clinic. She currently works at Netcare Milpark Breast Care Centre of Excellence.


Header image by Freepik

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