Tips for Palliative Care Nurses During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s difficult to care for patients without that personal touch. One palliative care nurse offers solutions.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may have forever changed the way that cancer is treated, with more frequent use of telemedicine and more thorough symptom monitoring (for both COVID-19 and cancer). While these alterations in care could be beneficial in the long run, many patients are missing the personal touch of their healthcare team and are eager to get it back.

“One of the biggest challenges that our oncology patients face is the feeling of being alone, and now we have quarantine, so that really messes with their heads,” said Rebecca Bank, BSN, RN, OCN, CHPN, a palliative care and advanced planning nurse at Sansum Clinic Ridley Tree Cancer Center.

Bank recently chatted with Oncology Nursing News about how the pandemic has changed palliative care for patients with cancer.

“My advice to nurses and patients is that during COVID-19, while many oncology patients can feel alone, and it can be a very challenging time in their lives, the biggest thing that nurses can do is reach out. Take that time out to connect with patients,” Bank said.

However, Bank noted that since nurses have to wear facemasks whenever in contact with patients and practice social distancing, it can be difficult to show empathy and compassion that is usually communicated through facial expressions and human touch.

In an attempt to make up for the lack of closeness with patients, nurses should implement more follow-up, Bank said.

“If I’m consistently there, if I answer their phone calls and follow up with their concerns, you bet that they will know that I care,” she said. “I’ve had many patients connect with me that way and say, ‘Rebecca, I’m glad to know that you’ll pick up and be there if I have a question.’”

And when a cancer diagnosis coincides with a frightening pandemic, patients and their loved ones are likely to have a lot of questions about symptoms and their management, social distancing guidelines, and overall safety.

Once again, the nurse has a key role, which involves asking the right questions to get to the root of any issues that patients may be experiencing. For example, if a patient has a symptom and is unsure if it is cancer- or coronavirus-related, nurses should conduct screening.

“It’s about asking the right questions and making really thorough assessment, even if you’re not able to see the patient in person,” Bank said. “[It takes many questions] over the phone or even telemedicine. Using video and using your resources to really provide that assessment and help patients be aware of those symptomatic changes is important.”

And while many organizations may have temporarily closed, Bank mentioned that there are still many that are operating to help patients with cancer.

“Find what resources are still out there,” she said. “The persistence and outreach to find that network not only benefits ourselves [as nurses], but patient care as well.”