Harbin Clinic Oncologist Dr. Melissa Dillmon Speaks to Cancer Care During COVID-19

On Thursday April 23, 2020, The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) held a web conference discussing “COVID-19 and Cancer: Addressing a Healthcare System in Crisis.” Harbin Clinic Oncologist Dr. Melissa Dillmon was a featured speaker and transparently addressed the topic “A View from the Frontline – What an Oncology Practice, Patients and Community are Experiencing.”

The conference opened with remarks from Dr. Howard A. Burris, ASCO President and Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, TN. Dr. Burris spoke to the unprecedented and immediate clinical challenges with cancer care patients, and that delays in care and shortages of medical supplies are concerns for the diagnosis and prognosis of patients.

Dr. Dillmon’s presentation painted an accurate picture of the dedication and expertise presented in her local community amidst the COVID-19 crisis. She addressed how Harbin Clinic has adapted their operations for patient safety, her concerns with current treatment for her patients and worry for those who skip regular screenings this year.

“The Harbin Clinic Cancer Center has taken proactive measures against COVID-19 community spread, and we have adapted our services quickly so that we are still able to deliver essential cancer care,” said Dr. Dillmon. “We’ve conducted HarbinCONNECT virtual visits, implemented screening at all entrances, and allow only one visitor with our cancer patients. We’ve done everything we can in order to provide the safest environment for our patients and care givers.”

She discussed that Harbin Clinic Oncologists have also paused visiting local hospitals, unless there is an emergency, in an effort to lower the risk of contracting the virus and bringing it back to their cancer patients. They are instead utilizing electronic charts and virtual consults with residents who are already based at the hospitals.

Dr. Dillmon explains that through this crisis, telehealth and virtual visits have been introduced to the community for the first time. Harbin Clinic has rapidly adjusted to utilizing virtual visits through their platform HarbinCONNECT. Dr. Dillmon expressed her thanks and gratitude to those who have worked diligently to make the program easy and accessible to her patients who might not have the resources for a virtual visit. 

“We’ve made sure that someone on our team calls every patient prior to their virtual visit to help them get familiar with the platform,” explained Dr. Dillmon. “And we’re so grateful to our home health agencies that are going into the homes of the elderly who are sheltering in place and providing electronic resources for their virtual visits.”

Dr. Dillmon emphasized the speed and efficiency in which the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center quickly adjusted their day-to-day operations, but she also acknowledged her concerns for patients through these challenging times.

“The Breast Cancer Center, Endoscopy Center and Lung Cancer Program have seen dramatic declines in screening tests since patients have been sheltering in place,” says Dr. Dillmon. “We’re worried for those missing lung screenings, mammograms or colonoscopies during this time. These routine screenings are vital in detecting early signs of cancer.”

Throughout her presentation, Dr. Dillmon delivered her experiences and recommendations with deliberate accuracy and encouragement. Other panelists discussed progress towards a COVID-19 vaccine, community healing after surpassing their peak and the continuous research and analysis of how-to better care for cancer patients during these uncertain times.

Dr. Burris concluded the conference by giving thanks to his colleagues, and he stressed the significance of the cancer community coming together and rising to the challenge of COVID-19. 

Learn more about the Cancer Center, here.