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Reactions and countermeasures of medical oncologists towards the incoming COVID-19 pandemic: a WhatsApp messenger-based report from the Italian College of Chief Medical Oncologists

15 May 2020
Livio Blasi, Roberto Bordonaro, Nicolò Borsellino, Alfredo Butera, Michele Caruso, Stefano Cordio, Di Cristina Liborio, Francesco Ferraù, Dario Giuffrida, Hector Soto Parra, Massimiliano Spada, Paolo Tralongo, Roberto Valenza, Francesco Verderame, Stefano Vitello, Filippo Zerilli, Dario Piazza, Alberto Firenze, Vittorio Gebbia

Background: This descriptive, unplanned investigation has been undertaken to report reactions, attitudes and countermeasures which have been put in place and implemented by medical oncology units facing the COVID-19 outbreak in Southern Italy.

Materials and methods: Data have been retrospectively obtained from the time-related analysis of conversations via a WhatsApp messenger-based group chat between the medical directors belonging to the Italian College of Medical Oncology Directors. Overall number, intensity and time trend of conversations related to reactions during the 4 weeks of observation related to the crucial events which occurred between 24 February and 28 March, 2020 are included. A sentiment analysis of conversations was also carried out.

Results: We report 956 conversations among 19 medical oncology units related to reactions to the crucial events, such as epidemic spread, Government ordinances and guidelines during the 4 weeks of observation. Data show significant awareness of problems linked to the COVID-19 spread among oncologists and rapid diffusion of countermeasures. Actions taken were correlated time wise to crucial events. A correlation between conversations and the volume of activity of oncology units was found. By analysing the sentiment analysis of raw data, positive emotions were reduced in percentage over the weeks. A significant increase in negative emotions was observed as the outbreak impacted on the healthcare system.

Conclusion: In our experience, the WhatsApp instant-messaging system seems to be a useful tool to share news and reactions between medical oncologists to rapidly implement necessary health measures and answers to most cancer patients’ needs and queries in the COVID-19 pandemic scenario.

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