Dean Friesen needs chemotherapy twice a month to keep his cancer at bay. But visiting a care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic puts Friesen – whose immune system is weakened because of his treatments – at greater risk for catching the virus.
To reduce Friesen’s risk, his care team signed him up for M Health Fairview’s innovative Home Infusion program. Though it was first developed before the pandemic as a convenient, less costly care alternative, the Home Infusion program has quickly become a resource for cancer patients because it allows patients who meet certain standards to receive chemotherapy in the comfort of their homes, rather than traveling to a treatment center during a surging pandemic. Friesen was the first patient in the program when it launched in March 2020 – and one of the first in the country to receive this kind of at-home cancer care.
“As far as we know, M Health Fairview was the second health system in the U.S. to offer this,” said Brett Benfield, regional manager of home infusion and compounding for Fairview Pharmacy Services.
Friesen is a 58-year-old Deephaven resident who works as a commercial banker. Married with two sons, Friesen is also an avid boater and skier who loves to spend time outside, particularly at a nearby lake. After he began to experience severe back pain that made it difficult to do the activities he loves, Friesen was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2018.
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that begins in a person’s bone marrow. It can damage bones, which was what caused Friesen’s back pain. Following his diagnosis, Friesen was treated at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center, where he received a blood and marrow transplant. Then, he embarked on a two-year treatment plan that involves twice-monthly chemotherapy infusions, which started at the M Health Fairview Masonic Cancer Clinic in April 2019.
Friesen’s clinic visits usually took half a day, including preparation, travel, provider appointments, lab work, and the chemotherapy itself.
With at-home chemotherapy, Friesen starts with a virtual visit with his doctor, M Health Fairview Hematologist/Oncologist Erica Warlick, MD. Then, his designated home infusion registered nurse, Kille Crepin, RN, CRNI, comes to Friesen’s home to collect blood samples. The samples are picked up by courier, and the chemotherapy supplies are delivered to his door on the morning of the infusion. Crepin returns two or three days later to administer the chemotherapy. Throughout the process, Dean can continue to work from home.
“There is clearly a lot of coordination going on behind the scenes to make sure all the pieces are in place each time, but for me the process is seamless,” Friesen said. “Having someone come to your home is really convenient.”
“We had been planning to introduce chemotherapy in the home, and it was something we had been working toward for about a year before COVID-19 hit,” said Crepin. “With chemo, it’s not as easy as giving a regular drug – there is a lot of complexity involved. That we were able to roll the program out in March 2020 was a huge benefit because it helped some patients stay out of the clinic, reducing possible exposure.”
Additional advantages of the program include reduced time for patients, eliminated travel costs, and increased comfort at home. “The benefits to patients, especially during COVID-19, are huge,” Crepin said.
For Friesen, whose immune system is compromised because of his treatment, home chemotherapy enables him to avoid unnecessary risk. Participating in the pilot is also important to him because he sees it as a way to help others.
“Having home chemotherapy for some patients allows M Health Fairview Masonic Cancer Clinic to focus on people who need the in-clinic time more than I do. If it helps other patients get better, deeper care, it’s a good outcome for everyone,” Friesen said.
Today, Friesen is back at the lake, enjoying the outdoor winter sports he loves. He looks forward to finishing his treatment in April 2021. Benfield and Crepin expect the home chemotherapy program to continue to expand, even once COVID-19 recedes. Friesen recommends the program to other cancer patients, calling it a win-win.
“The communication with my oncologist remained strong, even though I wasn’t going into the clinic,” Friesen said. “My team remained very involved in my care and stayed in communication with me. Knowing that your care providers are very accessible, and still actively following your care, is important.”