January 21, 2021 / All Stories

Caring for people living with cancer during a pandemic

AbbVie leaders leverage learnings from AIDS and SARS outbreaks to ensure continuity of care.

Working during uncertain times

People overtaken with fear and anxiety. Families confused, not clear on what will happen next. Who will get sick? These are the constant thoughts swirling during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’re also what Roula Qaqish, PharmD., experienced during the height of the AIDS epidemic when she was a pharmacist specializing in infectious disease outbreaks.

Mohamed Zaki, M.D., Ph.D., has a similar memory treating patients during a different epidemic – the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s – where he balanced treating cancer patients with the concern of a fatal respiratory illness that was easily transmitted.

Today, Dr. Zaki and Qaqish use their experience to fuel a team not wavered by the challenges of COVID-19 as the vice president and global head of oncology development and vice president of U.S. medical affairs for oncology respectively.

“The uncertainty that comes with the fear of the unknown,” recalls Qaqish. “How do we protect our people, our families, ourselves?”

Ensuring continuity of care

While much of the world has come to a halt, with many schools and businesses closed and even some doctors’ offices limiting hours, AbbVie’s oncology team has adapted with minimal disruptions to clinical trials as well as offered guidance to help health care providers be flexible so they can continue caring for patients.

“It’s a very challenging situation because many patients are required to go to the hospital,” Dr. Zaki explains. “When patients are challenged with COVID-19, they do not always go to the hospital, afraid of getting infected.”

Patients are met with the challenge of needing to visit their doctor in person for their cancer care, while also managing fears of COVID-19 and restrictions of offices even being open for appointments. AbbVie’s oncology team has been working around the clock to continue educating health care providers and patient organizations on the latest data and best practices. They have watched more visits for cancer patients turn virtual.

“It’s sort of like going back in the 1700s and 1800s when physicians made home visits,” Qaqish says. “Now they’re doing exactly that in a virtual fashion, and I see a benefit to that in a sense that patients might feel closer to their providers.”

Rethinking patients’ needs

Along with a new way of communicating with patients, the pandemic has spurred new thinking of how to care for those with cancer as many hospitals have limited patient visits. Dr. Zaki says oncologists are having to consider where patients receive their care as they have worked to reduce the load on the hospitals who need to focus on more critical cases, such as COVID-19.

Similarly, Qaqish explains, “we have to do what’s best for the patient, and we’ve seen how we can be flexible in how to care for them. We’re making sure that for each patient the right regimen is selected, be it one that requires them to come into the office or taken at home with appropriate follow-ups.”

As AbbVie’s frontline workers go into the lab with all the safety precautions to continue research, their team is hopeful, especially for patients, because they’ve watched scientists quickly and eagerly respond in an uncertain year.

As they’ve witnessed HCPs and patients pull through in times of uncertainty in previous epidemics, they know there are big takeaways that they can apply to future ways of caring for patients. “You’re not alone," says Dr. Zaki. "We’re together in this and we will beat this disease.”

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Ilke Limoncu
Email: ilke.limoncu@abbvie.com
Call: 1-669-224-1836
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