Despite communities beginning to lift “stay home” orders during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, MD Anderson’s operations – including patient appointments – continue to be affected.
While MD Anderson is open for care, the organization must keep enhanced safety measures in place to reduce the potential for COVID-19 exposure on our campuses and protect the health of our patients and our employees. Cancer patients are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because their immune systems are weakened due to treatment or the cancer itself.
“Our patient population represents the largest and densest immunocompromised population in the world,” says Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “We must accept that we will co-exist with COVID-19 until we reach a widespread state of immunity. Our readiness to protect our patients and our workforce is crucial.”
So what changes can MD Anderson patients and families expect during COVID-19?
Making patient appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic
Our process for new patients requesting MD Anderson appointments remains the same. Patients can self-refer online, or a physician may initiate the referral. Current patients should contact their care teams through MyChart, or by calling their clinic.
Our clinical teams will work with you to determine the most appropriate option for your care, which for current patients may include a virtual visit, care coordination in your local community if you live outside the Houston area, or visiting an MD Anderson location for your appointments and cancer treatment. Our goal is to reduce the number of visits to Houston to keep our patients safe, since traveling increases the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Patients traveling from outside Texas may need to self-quarantine
Patients living in certain areas outside of Texas will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days if they do need to travel to MD Anderson, and new patients will be scheduled for a nasal swab COVID-19 test prior to appointment arrival.
You’ll receive a MyChart COVID-19 questionnaire before your appointments
All patients will receive a MyChart questionnaire four days prior to their scheduled appointments to ask about travel outside Texas, symptoms, exposures, and local COVID-19 testing by nasal swab. You may be requested to take a COVID-19 nasal swab test at MD Anderson, even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms.
What to expect when you arrive for an appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic
At our Texas Medical Center (TMC) Campus, there are specific entrances for patients, including:
- Main Building, The Pavilion valet entrance
- Main Building, The Aquarium valet entrance
- Main Building, Garage 10, Floor 3 skybridge
- Mays Clinic, East Lobby valet entrance
- Faculty Center, Floor 3, near Garage 17 entrance
Nearby parking garages are open, but our valet parking operations are suspended due to COVID-19.
If you are driving yourself to our Texas Medical Center Campus and need assistance from the garage into the building, please drive to either The Aquarium Valet entrance or Mays Clinic Valet. Our valet team will direct you on where to park. Then they will meet you at your garage with a wheelchair and help you get into the building. Our Patient Transportation team will take over once you're in the building.
As you enter our campus, you will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure, and provided a face mask to be worn throughout our campus. Even if you have your own fabric mask, we ask that you wear the mask you’re provided while you are on our campus, unless instructed by a member of your clinical team to remove it for care.
Social distancing measures are in place throughout MD Anderson. Some services and amenities are limited or closed to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing guidelines and reduce the spread of COVID-19, including:
- Valet parking
- Café seating
- Hospitality Centers
- Patient Relaxation Area
- Beauty/Barber shop
- The Learning Centers
- Salus at our Houston-area locations
- Mail station in the Main Building
Grab-n-Go foods are still available at our dining locations, and patients are welcome to eat in public spaces, such as our lobbies and reception areas, while keeping a safe distance of 6 feet away from others. Gift shops at our TMC Campus are open.
COVID-19 visitor restrictions
It’s important to note that visitors – for both inpatient hospital stays and outpatient clinic appointments and procedures – are currently restricted at all of our locations. There are limited exceptions for pediatric patients, adult patients with neurocognitive issues and/or who are unable to consent for themselves, as well as for hospitalized patients who may be facing end of life, as clinically assessed by their care teams.
We understand that family members and friends are important members of our patients’ care teams, but the visitor restriction is necessary to reduce the number of people entering and traveling through MD Anderson. We’re encouraging patients to bring smart devices to their appointments so they can connect with their loved ones by phone or video conference. Our care teams can help include your loved ones in the appointments virtually, just as they would if they were there in person.
“We know how valuable our patients’ support systems are during treatment,” says Beth Garcia, associate vice president for Patient Experience. “We’ve heard from many of our patients who appreciate the additional steps MD Anderson is taking to keep them safe, and we are so impressed by some of the creative ways caregivers are supporting their loved ones during appointments, when they’re not able to be physically present.”
Parking and restroom access for caregivers
MD Anderson has arranged free “cell phone” parking lots for family members or friends waiting to pick up patients from appointments. These cell phone lots are in:
- Braeswood Garage (Floor 1, via valet entrance) on Braeswood Boulevard, just south of Holcombe Boulevard
- Zayad Building (surface lot) on MD Anderson Boulevard, just north of Garage 10
- Mays Clinic Garage (Floor 1, via valet entrance) off Holcombe Boulevard, west of Bertner Avenue
It’s recommended that people using the cell phone lots bring their own food and beverages, as they will not be able to come into MD Anderson to purchase food and drinks.
There are portable restrooms on site at the cell phone lots. If visitors need to use indoor bathroom facilities, they may enter the patient screening locations at The Pavilion, The Aquarium and Mays Clinic, but will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, then escorted to and from the restroom.
If there are climate concerns, some indoor sitting areas can be accessed between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. in The Aquarium, The Pavilion and in Mays Clinic, but you will need to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure before entering, and CDC social distancing guidelines will be enforced.
Appointments and support groups are available online
Our doctors have increased their availability for virtual visits, allowing patients to connect with them through live video and audio on their own devices. In addition to video appointments, MD Anderson is offering online support groups for cancer patients and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups are facilitated by professional trained social work counselors. You can get information and sign-up via our Support Groups site. One-on-one support is available through MyCancerConnection.
MD Anderson continues to monitor COVID-19, and our operations continue to evolve in response. Currently, we are increasing the availability of appointments in some of our care and procedure areas, as well as re-opening enrollment for some clinical trials.
However, we remain prepared and ready to respond in the event of a sustained rise in COVID-19 cases or signals of a second peak. Up-to-date information about our COVID-19 response is available via our coronavirus site. Patients with questions or concerns specific to their care are encouraged to contact their care teams via MyChart.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.