Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare Oncologist Gets Creative During the COVID-19 Pandemic to Help His Patients with Cancer Navigate Uncertain Times


Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 04/10/2020 --Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Intermountain Healthcare oncologist Mark A. Lewis, MD, is learning to get creative to help his patients who are anxious and worried not only about the coronavirus outbreak but having to navigate these uncertain times after a cancer diagnosis.

In this week's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Lewis, himself a cancer survivor, addresses how he is balancing the fears and anxiety of his patients with cancer and their ongoing treatments.

"I've never seen so many patients concerned and anxious," noted Dr. Lewis, who is director of gastrointestinal oncology for Intermountain Healthcare. "I found myself and my patients navigating between two threats – cancer and COVID-19."

"Just because there is a pandemic other issues and health ailments do not go away," he added. "We are balancing the two risks."

In his NEJM article, "Between Scylla and Charybdis – Oncologic Decision Making in the Time of COVID-19," Dr. Lewis said it an unusual and challenging time for everyone – but especially for cancer patients.

"Confounding factors notwithstanding, most people with cancer, in comparing themselves with their healthy peers, perceive themselves as at greater risk from COVID-19, especially if they are actively undergoing therapy," he wrote.

This is one of the reasons Dr. Lewis has turned to TeleHealth care for the majority of his patients. Dr. Lewis calls these video conference appointments, "House calls in the 21st century."

He said the use of technology may be the silver lining to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Connecting regularly with patients through video technology allows patients to stay home and get the treatment they need, without having to face the fear and uncertainty associated with venturing out in public for these cancer patients.

For those facing more aggressive cancers who need chemotherapy treatments, Dr. Lewis is getting creative with the timing of those treatments.

"We are careful with dosing because we don't want chemo to be more harmful than COVID-19," said Dr. Lewis. "We schedule chemotherapy treatments when their immune system is most robust and make careful considerations case-by-case. It's very individualized care."

Melissa Inouye, 40, is one of those patients receiving chemotherapy every two weeks for colon cancer.

"Statistically speaking, the likelihood of me surviving cancer, is about the same as the likelihood of me dying from COVID-19, and I've been feeling fine about life as a cancer patient," said Inouye. "There's plenty of scary stuff out there that can 'get you'. So, COVID-19 is about as bad as everything else-- though we shouldn't take unnecessary risks, especially when they endanger others."

Inouye says she gets her confidence and inspiration from Dr. Lewis, and does not live in fear, but instead chooses to follow the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – staying home. When she does go out, Inouye wears a mask and when she comes home, she washes her hands and sanitizes the surfaces she's touched, to protect herself, her family, and the medical professionals she regularly comes in contact.

Dr. Lewis hopes all of his patients, like Inouye, realize that physical distance does not have to be social distancing and that out-of-sight, does not mean those patients are out-of-mind.

For a link to the entire perspective article go here.

Intermountain Healthcare is a not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, 215 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,500 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes and sustainable costs. For more information, see