12 ways MD Anderson is protecting our patients from COVID-19

Last updated June 12, 2020.

Cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, because their immune systems are compromised due to disease and/or treatment. That’s why MD Anderson has taken special precautions to protect the health and safety of our cancer patients when they visit our campuses during the pandemic.

“From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, MD Anderson has committed to going above and beyond to ensure the health and safety of our employees and our cancer patients. Guided by President Dr. Peter Pisters’ astute leadership, we hold ourselves to a higher standard because our patients represent the largest and densest immunocompromised population in the world,” says Welela Tereffe, M.D., MD Anderson’s chief medical officer. “Providing exceptional cancer care remains our top priority, and right now that also means keeping our patients safe from COVID-19, which will continue to be part of our lives until we reach a widespread state of immunity.”

As we learn to live with the coronavirus in the community, MD Anderson remains responsive to the needs of our patients and employees.

Here are 12 precautions and processes MD Anderson has in place to keep our patients safe from COVID-19 while receiving cancer care.

1. Screening everyone for COVID-19 symptoms when they enter our campuses. MD Anderson is screening everyone, including our employees, for COVID-19 symptoms at entrances to all of our campuses. This screening includes a thermal temperature check as you enter the building. For added protection, we have plexiglass enclosures around screening personnel at all patient entrances on our campuses.

If we suspect that a patient has COVID-19 based on this screening, we will arrange for immediate COVID-19 nasal swab testing.

2. Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for many patients: MD Anderson is testing all new patients for COVID-19. We’re also testing all inpatients at admission and are testing patients prior to:

  • starting radiation therapy 
  • procedures in the operating room
  • stem cell transplants
  • certain cellular therapy infusions
  • procedures that generate respiratory aerosols, involve the mucous membranes, or induce significant coughing, such as a lung biopsy

We are also providing testing for patients when a household member has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days. Outside test results are helpful to share with your care team, but will not replace MD Anderson’s COVID-19 testing if your care team determines you need it. You will get more details if you are scheduled for COVID-19 nasal swab testing.

Ensuring the safety and health of our workforce is also a top priority. As part of MD Anderson’s commitment to caring for our patients, we also test all employees who have coronavirus symptoms, as well as those who request asymptomatic testing. We also require our employees to undergo testing after travel outside the state of Texas.

3. Asking everyone to wear medical face masks on our campuses at all times. Every patient will be given a medical face mask when entering our campus. For your safety and that of other patients and our employees, we ask that you wear this mask the entire time you are on our campus. If you have a cloth mask, we ask that you instead wear the medical face mask you receive while at MD Anderson.

Patients who are admitted to our hospital are asked to wear face masks during transport and procedures, and when a staff member is within 6 feet.

4. Not allowing visitors, with limited exceptions. To reduce the spread of infection, MD Anderson has a no visitor policy at this time. This means family members or personal caregivers cannot accompany our adult patients at all of our locations until further notice. There are limited exceptions for pediatric patients, new 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.

Patients are encouraged to include family members and loved ones in appointments via FaceTime or other video conferencing platforms. Read how one couple made this work.

“We know what a vital role caregivers and family members play in our patients’ care, and we understand how difficult it is for caregivers to not be able to join their loved ones at appointments in person,” says Tereffe. “However, because our cancer patients are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection, it’s vital that we limit the number of people coming onto our campus. We are grateful for our patients’ and caregivers’ continued support and understanding as we work to ensure their health and safety.”

5. Social distancing. MD Anderson asks that our patients and employees maintain a distance of at least 6 feet at all times while on our campuses, including when you’re entering our buildings for screening. We have limited seating in our reception areas for this reason. To help reduce the amount of time you wait between appointments, ask your provider about getting your labs and imaging done the day before your visit.

There are limited exceptions when employees may need to be closer than 6 feet to provide direct patient care, including blood draws, physical exams, procedures and imaging, such as CT scans and MRIs.

6. Caring for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in a separate area. To reduce the potential for COVID-19 spread, a dedicated team is seeing all patients with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis in a separate area, with a dedicated team of staff wearing personal protective equipment. Likewise, all inpatients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnoses are treated in a dedicated COVID-19 unit, which separates them from other inpatients and has its own care team. Read a nurse’s reflections on working in our COVID-19 unit.

7. More virtual visits. MD Anderson is scheduling more patients for virtual visits, so that you can continue to get the care you need without leaving home, while also reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread on our campuses. At this time, virtual visits are available for existing MD Anderson patients who have a clinic follow-up visit or a consult visit with a MD Anderson provider, depending on where they live. Each state has different regulations regarding video visits and the practice of medicine by out-of-state clinicians. Talk to your care team to learn what may be available and best for you. Learn how to get the most out of your virtual visit.