The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a host of curbside services—groceries, take-out food and hardware supplies all can be delivered to your car.

And now, services for cancer patients have joined that mix.

The Spectrum Health Cancer Center at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion recently launched a drive-up infusion service for some appointments.

Heather David, a 26-year-old ovarian cancer survivor from Muskegon, tried the drive-up option recently for a routine appointment to have her chemotherapy port flushed.

She pulled into the parking ramp at Lemmen-Holton, and a nurse performed the maintenance service for her port through the open car door.

“I loved it,” she said. “I think it’s a great invention.”

The drive-up service, launched a week ago, is an innovative approach to meeting the needs of cancer patients while lowering anxiety about the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“They say that necessity is the mother of invention,” said Melissa Hibdon, RN, BSN, clinical manager for outpatient chemotherapy infusion. “Well, the pandemic is the mother of invention right now.”

Patients still receive chemotherapy infusions in the clinic.

But they can have blood drawn from their port, receive injections and have their ports flushed at the drive-up service.

Heather’s cancer has been in remission for more than a year, but she still has a chemotherapy port, a thin tube inserted into a chest vein that is used to deliver medication and draw blood.

“My specific cancer has a high recurrence rate, so I am keeping the port for five years,” she said.

She returns to the clinic periodically to have the port flushed with a saline solution to prevent it from becoming blocked.

When she learned she could use the drive-up service, Heather was a bit surprised.

“I have never heard of anything like that,” she said. “But I like the idea. It’s open air. Compared to being in a building, you are not around many other people.”

With the pandemic, she is especially careful about avoiding infections.

“It’s definitely scary, even being a year out (from treatment),” she said. “I know my immune system is not recovered to what it was pre-cancer.”

A patient’s concern

The service came together “at lightning speed,” Hibdon said.

At a daily staff “huddle” one Friday morning, nurse Lori Hinken discussed a patient’s anxiety about getting bloodwork the day before her chemo infusion.

“I wish we could do the blood draws in their cars,” said Seay Huyge, the charge nurse for the chemo infusion clinic.

“Can we?” Hidbon asked.

They consulted an infection preventionist for guidance, and then began to explore ways to make the service possible.

They scouted locations for the drive-up service and chose a spot in the parking ramp next to the Lemmen-Holton entrance—sheltered from weather and easy for patients to access.

Hibdon brought a work station on wheels to the P2 parking level and tested the medication barcode scanner. The WiFi signal was too weak.

She contacted Spectrum Health’s Information Services team for help.

“They were excited to be part of the solution,” she said.

Within a day, she had a strong enough WiFi signal.

The staff contacted patients with upcoming appointments to see if they would prefer to receive treatment in their cars. The response: 100% yes.

“The patients are thrilled,” Hibdon said.

On Tuesday, four days after the suggestion surfaced, the first patients received care at the drive-up service.

“I think this is the fastest we have gotten something new and unusual off the ground,” Hibdon said.

Although the service occurs in a parking ramp, team members follow standard protocols for safety and infection prevention. A registered nurse who is chemotherapy-certified provides the services, using the same sterile techniques used in the clinic.

The car-side service especially benefits patients with mobility issues, such as those who use a walker or wheelchair, Hibdon added. They receive treatment more quickly and avoid making a trip from the parking ramp to the clinic.

And it has emotional benefits for patients.

“You really decrease their anxiety about the whole experience,” Hibdon said.

In addition to the drive-up service, the cancer center provides patients the option of virtual visits for appointments with their oncologist—although some visits are still conducted in person. For those who get care within the facility, the team is ready and prepared, having added a variety of strict cleaning and safety measures.

The goal is to provide the care patients need, how they’d prefer to receive it.

“It’s never enough to just empathize and say, ‘I’m so sorry you are worried or stressed out about (exposure risks) during this this pandemic,” Hibdon said. “You have to move from empathy to action. You have to do something about it.”