Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer patients and psycho-oncology providers: Perspectives, observations, and experiences of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society membership
Objective: To understand: (1) psycho-oncology providers' perspectives on and observations of the psychological responses of their cancer patients during the pandemic, and (2) psycho-oncology providers' own experiences delivering care.
Methods: In this concurrent mixed methods study, a survey was distributed to psychosocial providers who were members of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS). Survey respondents were invited to participate in a one-on-one audio-recorded interview via phone or secure Zoom®.
Results: seventy-six self-identified psycho-oncology providers responded to the survey and 11 participated in a one-on-one interview. Approximately half reported that patients responded in unique ways to COVID-19 stress relative to other populations. Three themes emerged from qualitative analyses: (1) unique burden on patients, (2) cancer patients' pandemic response and its relationship to their cancer experience, and (3) unexpected positive changes. Providers emphasized that the cancer experience may have prepared patients for the existential distress of the pandemic and described patients' resiliency. Two themes emerged regarding delivery of care: (1) new professional and personal challenges and (2) provider resiliency.
Conclusions: Although providers observed that the pandemic placed new burdens on patients, they emphasized that the cancer experience may have prepared patients for the existential distress of the pandemic and described patients' resiliency. To overcome challenges, psycho-oncology providers used innovative strategies to support patients and foster their own mental health.