Musculoskeletal oncology: patient triage and management during the COVID-19 pandemic
Sarcoma treatment during the covid-19 pandemic is a new challenge. This patient population is often immunocompromised and potentially more susceptible to viral complications.
Government guidelines highlight the need to minimize patient exposure to unnecessary hospital visits. However, those guidelines lack practical recommendations on ways to manage triage and diagnosis expressly for new cancer patients. Furthermore, there are no reports on the efficiency of the guidelines.
One of the main issues in treating musculoskeletal tumours is the complexity and variability of presentation. We offer a triage model, used in a quaternary-referral musculoskeletal oncology centre, that allows us to maintain an open pathway for referral of new patients while minimizing exposure risks. A multidisciplinary approach and analysis of existing investigations allow for a pre-clinic evaluation.
The model identifies 3 groups of patients:
- Patients with suspected high-grade malignancy, or benign cases with aggressive features, both in need of further evaluation in the clinic and prompt treatment
- Patients with low-grade malignancy, and benign cases whose treatment is not urgent, that are managed, during the pandemic by telemedicine, with reassurance and information about their illness
- Patients who can be managed by their local medical professionals
In comparison to a pre-pandemic period, that approach resulted in a higher ratio of malignant-to-benign conditions for new patients seen in the clinic (3:4 vs. 1:3 respectively), thus using available resources more efficiently and prioritizing patients with suspected high-grade malignancy.
We believe that this triage system could be applied in other surgical oncology fields during a pandemic.