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Utah cancer doctor embraces telehealth to treat patients during COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Mark Lewis is one of many doctors in Utah embracing telehealth to help treat cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Intermountain Healthcare)

MURRAY — Dr. Mark Lewis, the Director of Gastrointestinal Oncology at Intermountain Healthcare, is used to treating patients at his practice in Murray. As a cancer survivor himself, he knows the value of personally talking with patients through a trying time.

But these days he’s mainly using telehealth, or, the delivery of health-related services via telecommunication and digital communication technologies.

Dr. Lewis says the experience has sometimes been interesting.

“I was talking to one woman in Idaho, and she was sitting at her kitchen table and a cow popped into [the] frame because she was adjacent to a barnyard. That was a funny moment that’s never happened to me in my career before,” Lewis said.

It’s not the first time the doctor has used telehealth.

“Intermountain as a healthcare system has long been poised to communicate with patients in the rural or frontier areas through, basically, a Skype-like platform,” he said.

“Now we’re actually using it more and more for people who live in our metropolitan areas.”

Despite COVID-19 and the ability to treat some patients via telehealth some cancer patients still need to come into the doctor’s office. That’s why Dr. Lewis says they are taking precautions.

“They are very carefully screened. Basically, they have their temperature taken at the entrance. We also minimize the number of visitors,” Lewis said.

Another way the pandemic has reached into the lives of doctors and patients is through medication dosing. In this case, Dr. Lewis has changed the dosage of some chemotherapy treatments to protect the patients’ immune systems.

“We are very carefully considering reductions in chemotherapy dosage if we think there’s going to be an unacceptable risk to the immune system. It is a myth that all chemotherapy lowers immunity…Part of social distancing is our ethical responsibility to protect the vulnerable among us whether we can see them or not,” Lewis said.