Dr. Rushir Choksi

Dr. Rushir Choksi from the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center discusses the steps all Hillman Cancer Center locations are taking to keep you safe and why it’s important for you to continue care and undergo routine screenings.

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Read The Full Podcast Transcript

Tonia Caruso:
The importance of cancer care, even during COVID-19. Welcome to the UPMC HealthBeat podcast. I’m Tonia Caruso, and joining us right now is Dr. Rushir Choksi. He is a medical oncologist at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at Butler Health System. Doctor, thank you for joining us.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
Thank you for having me.

Tonia Caruso:
So you pride yourself, and all the folks at the Hillman Center and Butler really pride yourself, on being there for the community. But COVID during this time changed things a few months ago.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
That’s correct. About six weeks ago, COVID did change a lot of things in the clinic. A lot of the non-essential care was deferred. We tried to decrease the foot traffic in the clinic. Although we did try to limit the number of patients that come in, there are some patients that needed to come in for chemotherapy or for treatment, or if they needed physical exams, if they had side effects from chemotherapy, or had symptoms of their cancer.

Tonia Caruso:

So, let’s talk for a moment when this all began. Were there certain procedures or tests that you were recommending that patients stay home and wait a little bit?

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
Yes. For patients that have had cancer and are seeing me for follow-up, some of those patients were staying home, weren’t getting their routine scans that they would have gotten if we did not have COVID. There were also some patients that needed routine mammograms or colonoscopies, and those were also delayed.

Tonia Caruso:
And now as we move into sort of this new normal and we’re all trying to figure out what things look like, there’s kind of a decision now that folks do need to come back and get these tests and have these follow-up appointments. And why is that?

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
That’s correct. We base our physical exams and patients coming into the clinic and scans after a patient has had cancer on national guidelines. And we base it because if a patient has a recurrence of their disease, hopefully we can catch it early and that it could potentially be curable. The longer we wait, the less curable the cancer will become if it does come back.

Tonia Caruso:
And so do patients tell you that they’re frightened or they’re scared, and what precautions are the hospital and the health system taking to keep people safe?

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
Yeah, some patients have said that they’re worried, but they do understand the need for health care and that they have to start getting their health screenings back, and their scans and their follow-up visits back to where they used to be.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
At each Hillman Cancer Center, it is a very safe environment. We have several protocols in place to keep the patient and the staff safe. Prior to the patient’s visit, we do call each patient, and we do screen them for COVID symptoms and contacts. We also do that again when they do come to the clinic. We have an infrared temperature thermometer that we use for each patient. We have mandatory masking for patients as well as staff to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread. We also limit the number of visitors that can come with the patient as well.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
And if they are positive for screening for COVID, they’re placed into an isolation room, where a provider can come in and talk to them and decide if they need a COVID test. There are no barriers or obstacles to getting a COVID test for a patient, or a staff member, for that matter.

Tonia Caruso:
Speaking of staff, how are you ensuring that they are safe and healthy during this time?

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
They are asked to be masked every day, especially if they have patient contacts. If they are feeling sick, we have asked them to stay home and then we would obtain a test.

Tonia Caruso:
Let’s talk about screenings of all kinds when it comes to cancer and why folks should come in for those now.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
Well, for breast cancer screenings and colon cancer screenings, these are based on guidelines. And if they’re caught early, these cancers can be potentially curable. And so the more that we delay, the less likely they’ll be curable if a patient does have a diagnosis of cancer.

Tonia Caruso:
So, for instance, a colonoscopy. That’s something that a few weeks ago we might’ve said, “Stay home, you can put that off,” but perhaps not during these days, and especially if someone starts to have some symptoms.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
That’s correct. We base our frequency of colonoscopies and mammograms on national guidelines. And some of the symptoms that patients can have for colon cancer are bleeding in their stools. Sometimes they can have abdominal pain or belly pain. And so those are symptoms to really watch out for and definitely talk to your doctor about if you have those symptoms.

Tonia Caruso:
And so technology has played a big part in all of this. Talk about the role of video visits.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
It has been. We’ve used telemedicine a lot. In the beginning when all of this started, telemedicine was approximately 30 percent of our patients. These are patients for routine visits where we didn’t absolutely need a physical exam. Telemedicine will have a role in the future. We just don’t know what that role is yet, as the majority of our patients do need a physical exam.

Tonia Caruso:
What are the conversations that you’re having with patients? What’s the mood been as patients come in? Is it different treating patients during these times?

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
The mood has actually been very good and very well-received. The patients are very comfortable coming to clinic. They know how safe it is, and we do explain that to them over the phone. And after the visit, they do feel very safe in our clinic.

Tonia Caruso:
Let’s talk a little bit about the staff and the doctors and nurses there. Do you feel like you’ve all come together and maybe have even become even closer through all of this?

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
We have. It’s a team effort. The nurses, the staff, everybody is a huge part of this team and tries to reduce a risk of the spread of coronavirus.

Tonia Caruso:
Finally, doctor, what message do you want to leave patients with as to why now is not the time to neglect their health care?

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
Well, the message we want to leave is that our clinics at Hillman and at any of the Hillman sites, that it is a very safe environment. We have specific protocols in place to decrease the spread and risk of COVID to the patient and our staff.

Tonia Caruso:
Thank you so much, Dr. Rushir Choksi. We appreciate your time today.

Dr. Rushir Choksi:
Thank you.

Tonia Caruso:
I’m Tonia Caruso. Thank you for joining us for UPMC HealthBeat.

 

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 60 locations throughout western Pennsylvania and Ohio, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.