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.