Continuing oncologic care in the wake of an environmental disaster
Merritt, Megan Marie
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BACKGROUND: Chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, have overtaken communicable disease as the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. However, despite the substantial toll these diseases have on populations, patients suffering from these illnesses are often overlooked in the aftermath of an environmental disaster. Without proper disaster preparedness, these populations are often left vulnerable: without access to disease-modifying treatments or life-saving therapies. OBJECTIVE: This is a proposed disaster event health initiative for incorporating oncology care into disaster relief services worldwide. This study hypothesizes that with increased access to providers, resources, and cancer therapies during a disaster event, interruptions in patient oncology care will be minimized. METHODS: This disaster event health initiative consists of a detailed proposal for deploying a specialized oncology unit alongside traditional disaster response teams in an effort to decrease interruptions in patient oncology care. Depending on the severity of the disaster, available adjunct healthcare facilities, potential length of stay, most commonly used cancer therapies, and traditional patient: provider ratios, this proposal will inform the oncology unit assembly. Study measurables, such as how many patients seen, cancer diagnoses encountered, and most frequently used cancer therapies, will be collected using a standardized form. In addition, information regarding perceived patient satisfaction will be collected. System variable measures will be analyzed using frequency and average means whereas qualitative information will be coded for emerging themes. These measures of initiative efficacy will be used to revise and optimize future unit deployments. CONCLUSION: Worldwide morbidity and mortality from non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, are steadily increasing. When acute environmental disasters strike, access to essential healthcare resources is disrupted, leaving these vulnerable populations without life-saving therapies they desperately need. These interruptions in cancer treatment plans result in poorer, long-term patient outcomes, compounding the effects of the disaster situation. By deploying a specialized oncology unit with disaster response teams during the initial recovery process, interruptions in cancer care will be minimized, ultimately decreasing long-term morbidity and mortality outcomes in this vulnerable patient population.