COVID-19's Impact on Cancer Care: Increased Emotional Stress in Patients and High Risk of Provider Burnout

J Gastrointest Surg. 2022 Jan;26(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s11605-021-05032-y. Epub 2021 May 23.


Background: COVID-19's precise impact on cancer patients and their oncologic care providers remains poorly understood. This study aims at comparatively analyzing COVID-19's effect on cancer care from both patient and provider perspectives.

Methods: A multi-institutional survey was developed to assess COVID-19-specific concerns regarding treatment, safety, and emotional stress through 5-point Likert-type prompts and open-ended questions before and during the pandemic. Wilcoxon signed-rank and rank-sum tests were used to analyze before/during answers for providers and patients independently. Open-ended responses were assessed using inductive thematic analysis.

Results: The survey was completed by 104 (69.3%) patients and 50 (50%) providers. Patients demonstrated a significant change in only 1 of 15 Likert prompts. Most significant were increased concern regarding susceptibility to infection [z = 2.536, p = 0.011] and concerns regarding their cancer outcome [z = 4.572, p < 0.001]. Non-physician providers demonstrated significant change in 8 of 13 Likert prompts, whereas physicians had all 13 Likert prompts change in the COVID-19 setting. Physicians believed care to be more poorly planned [z = -3.857, p ≤ 0.001], availability of protective personal equipment to be more limited [z = -4.082, p < 0.001], and were significantly concerned infecting family members [z = 4.965, p < 0.001].

Conclusions: While patients had more difficulty coping with their cancer, they did not perceive significant differences in their actual treatment. This suggests the need for a renewed focus on patients coping with cancer. Among providers, physicians more than any other provider group had a strong negative perception of COVID-19's impact on healthcare, suggesting the need for novel approaches to target physician burnout.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cancer care; Professional burnout; Psychological stress; Surveys and questionnaires.

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Psychological
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Pandemics
  • Psychological Distress*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surveys and Questionnaires