Hospital teams are taking care to limit your risk of exposure to coronavirus if you need to go to the hospital. Cancer treatment centres have also been creating COVID-19 protected areas to make sure it is safe for people with cancer.
Whether you're going for a test appointment or treatment, all staff are following strict guidance on infection control. This includes wearing personal protective equipment. These measures help them to protect you, themselves and other patients.
What will my appointment be like?
Many hospital appointments have changed to video and telephone appointments instead of face-to-face appointments. But your team will ask you to come to the hospital if it is necessary, for example, if they need to examine you, or you’re having a test.
Telephone or video appointments
A video or telephone appointment can feel less personal than a face-to-face appointment. It can be particularly challenging if you don't like talking to people on the telephone or video. But you might also feel relieved not having to attend the hospital during the pandemic.
There are things that you can do to make it easier:
- Let your medical team know if you prefer a telephone or video call, or would like a face to face appointment.
- Let your team know in advance if you're hard of hearing or need an interpreter.
- Ask for a time slot when your doctor will call you.
- Find a quiet part of the house to take the call.
- Start with a phone call if you’re not confident with a video call.
- Ask for help if you need it and, if possible, practise a video call with a friend.
- You can ask someone to listen in for support. Put your phone on loudspeaker to do this. They could also ask questions and help you remember what the doctor says.
- Write down a list of questions before the call, and think about what you want to find out from the doctor.
- Tell your doctor if you are worried about anything in particular.
- Ask the doctor who you can call if you have any further questions after your phone appointment.
- Ask them to explain anything you don't understand.
- Ask your doctor to summarise what the next steps are.
- Do make sure you are close to your phone or computer around the time of your appointment as people often miss telephone calls from their doctor. Your doctor's call might not always be at the exact time of your appointment due to delays in their clinic.
Going to the hospital for a face-to-face appointment
It is understandable that you might feel anxious about getting coronavirus if you need to go to the hospital for an appointment. It might help to remember that most cancer treatment centres will try to create a COVID-19 protected area.
There are strict measures in place to try to protect you and others from getting the virus. Hospitals make sure that all surfaces and door handles are cleaned regularly. Staff are routinely tested for coronavirus and sent home when they have any symptoms. Your team will also use safety and cleaning procedures between appointments.
Most hospitals will check your temperature on arrival. They will also give you information on how to protect yourself from coronavirus during your visit.
Wear a mask or face covering when attending, unless you have permission not to do so. Wash your hands where possible and use a hand sanitiser gel.
Most hospitals try to schedule appointments so that you wait as little as possible. And they will ask you to not turn up early.
In some clinics, your appointment might be shorter than before. This is to give staff more time to do administration, arrange for the delivery of your medication and to clean the room after it has been used. It also allows for more space between appointments.
Your hospital might not sell refreshments during the pandemic. So you might have to bring your own.
Can I bring someone with me to the appointment?
Most hospitals will ask you to attend your appointment or treatment on your own. Attending on your own can feel frightening if you're receiving test results or a diagnosis. You can have someone waiting in the car or outside the building to support you afterwards.
In some situations, your team will allow you to bring someone with you to support you. Your team will allow you to bring someone with you if you need personal care or have a disability that makes it hard for you to understand complex information.
Will I have to wear a mask and will staff be wearing masks?
You have to wear a face mask when attending the hospital unless you have permission not to do so. Your doctor will ask you to remove it if they have to examine your mouth or nose.
Depending on the type of appointment you have, your team might wear a face mask with or without a face shield, gloves and apron.
You and your doctor might find it harder to communicate with a mask on. You might both find it hard to hear each other or to see each other's facial expressions. This can be particularly frustrating if you rely on lipreading to communicate. Ask them to repeat or write down what they've said if you can't hear them well.
Can I record the conversation with my doctor?
Many doctors will allow you to record your appointment. This can be helpful if you’d like to listen to it again to make sure you understood what they said. Ask your doctor or specialist nurse for permission to record the conversation before you start recording it.
How will I get my results or treatment plan?
Many hospitals use telephone or video calls to give you your test results or treatment plan. But others might do it through face-to-face appointments.
What if I’m expecting bad news – how will my team tell me?
Most doctors prefer to share bad news face-to-face. But there might be situations where they have to do it via a telephone or video call. This can make it even more difficult to take in what they’re telling you. Ask a friend or relative whom you can trust to be available afterwards for support if you’re expecting bad news. Also, make sure that you have the contact details of your clinical nurse specialist.
In some situations, your team will allow you to bring someone with you to your appointment to support you if you are expecting bad news.
Who will support me in the clinic?
Clinical nurse specialists usually work with doctors to offer support at clinic appointments. Because we need to social distance, the number of people in a room when you’re at the appointment may be less than usual.
This means that in some clinics, the nurse might not be there in the room but might be available after the appointment. Ask who you can contact if you are overwhelmed. Ideally, this will be the clinical nurse specialist for your cancer type.