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This study aims to look at the trends in our head and neck cancer patient population over the past 5 years with an emphasis on the past 2 years to evaluate how the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted our disparities and availability of care for patients, especially those living in rural areas. An additional aim is to identify existing disparities at our institution in the treatment of head and neck patients and determine solutions to improve patient care.
Materials and Methods:
A retrospective chart review was performed to identify patients who were consulted and subsequently treated with at least one fraction of radiation therapy at our institution with palliative or curative intent. Patient demographic information was collected including hometown, distance from the cancer centre based on zip-codes and insurance information and type of appointment (in-person or telehealth). Rural–urban continuum codes were used to determine rurality.
A total of 490 head and neck cancer patients (n = 490) were treated from 2017 to 2021. When broken down by year, there were no significant trends in patient population regarding travel distance or rurality. Roughly 20–30% of our patients live in rural areas and about 30% have a commute > 50 miles for radiation treatment. A majority of our patients rely on public insurance (68%) with a small percentage of those uninsured (4%). Telehealth visits were rare prior to 2019 and rose to 5 and 2 visits in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Head and neck cancer patients, despite rurality or distance from a cancer centre, may present with alarmingly enough symptoms despite limitations and difficulties with seeking medical attention even during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, providers must be aware of these potential disparities that exist in the rural population and seek to address these.
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