Healthcare in your hands: how digital technology can help cancer patients through their treatment

Author Peter VeashPublished 6 Min Read

Getting a cancer diagnosis is likely to be one of the most stressful times in anyone’s life. However, in terms of treatment and outcomes, there is some good news. A recent National Cancer Patient Experience Survey shows that cancer patients feel increasingly positive about the level of care given to them by the NHS. Cancer survival rates are better than ever, and in 2017, satisfaction with cancer care was at a record high, with almost 70,000 patients rating their overall care 9 out of 10.  

But there’s still more to do. And with the recent focus on delivering digital support, we have every opportunity to boost rates of overall patient satisfaction and help them through their treatment more effectively in the next few years.

 

Digital is coming to the fore in healthcare

Since the digital revolution, we’ve seen a massive improvement in patient experience across a number of verticals, with diabetes management leading the game when it comes to digitally-accessible patient support. The healthcare industry is finally getting to grips with patient needs and a number of digital initiatives like NHS Digital's self-care and prevention programme have recently been launched in response to changing patient expectations. The recent surge of accelerator programmes and government funding within the healthcare sector have also prompted the rise of the new digital products focused on improving the current cancer patient experience.

One of the most promising examples is BECCA – the Breast Cancer Care app developed by the charity in partnership with Super Being Labs. BECCA is a one-stop destination for information and support, helping breast cancer patients to adapt to life after treatment. And this innovative app is soon to become even stronger. With an additional £665k funding gained last December, Breast Cancer Care are now working on introducing new machine learning capabilities, enabling them to boost user experience, scale the app and reach thousands more women.

Patient-focused apps like BECCA are a big step towards a more holistic approach to patient care. But there are still areas that need rapid improvement. The industry needs to create solutions that go above the fragmented provider landscape, separated eco-systems and patient data silos. There’s a growing demand from cancer patients for self-care management solutions that support them at every step of their illness discovery and journey, regardless of the healthcare or pharma providers they’re using along the way. They need digital products that understand their individual needs, worries and daily behaviours, and deliver the required support for effective patient involvement in self-care management.

  

More effective data leveraging will create a better patient experience

In the digital era, it’s common for patients to turn to Google for answers. But this has become a massive problem in the industry, with false news, peer forums with no expert insight or misleading information on cancer symptoms that often result in feelings of fear, uncertainty, frustration and depression. Patients are still not given the tailored support they need and struggle to find trustworthy advice online. They deserve more – the industry needs to get better at supporting patients throughout their journey, effectively leveraging patient data to offer help that is more personal and more empowering.

Global and national privacy laws mean utilising patient data is highly restricted, but a growing number of healthcare and pharma brands are now finding a way through this legal minefield.

 

Transforming the future of healthcare with blockchain

Blockchain is one technology that could change the future of healthcare. It’s increasingly being used to facilitate cancer prediction research, devise and deliver personalised (or precision) medicines and share medical scans, hospital records and genetic data. In the post-GDPR world, the healthcare industry should strive to achieve a new decentralised future, leveraging data in a way that puts patients at the heart of the process.  

Coral Health, a blockchain-enabled healthcare solutions provider, is currently building an iterative and interoperable healthcare ecosystem. Through enabling the secure and effective dissemination of medical data, such a system can have a monumental impact on all areas of patient management, precision medicine research and pharmaceutical development. It gives large pharma and research organisations the opportunity to leverage new technologies and access big data to increase efficiencies, aid patient experience, and ultimately save lives.  

Legacy systems constraints, strict privacy laws, outdated practices and siloed organisational structures have traditionally blocked the possibilities of delivering a more personalised and relevant patient experience. But with the rise of new enabling technologies like blockchain, there is a strong potential to devise solutions that will use data to deliver real value to both patients, HCPs and healthcare/pharma organisations.

 

Empowering cancer patients when they are most vulnerable

While emerging new tech like blockchain shows high potential to disrupt the healthcare sector, it’s the patient journey that matters most. The new generation of health technology has the capability to transform patients into experts in their own condition and unlock seamless remote patient-doctor communication.

Cancer patients undergoing treatment are likely to be at home while suffering from a number of side effects, and having limited ability to self-care means their path to recovery may be rocky. A recent study on breast cancer patients in Toronto found that remote monitoring was significantly more convenient for the patients than in-person doctor visits. It reduces stress, saves costs and resolves key travel-related challenges:  

Follow-up via a mobile app can be used to eliminate in-person follow-up visits during the first 30 days following ambulatory breast reconstruction surgery. (...) Patients using the mobile app attended 0.40 times fewer in-person visits for follow-up care and sent more e-mails to their health care professionals during the first 30 days after surgery than did patients in the in-person follow-up group”, Kathleen A. Armstrong – MD, the study’s lead author – said in the research paper.

Empowering cancer patients to engage in and successfully manage self-care is the key next step for healthcare professionals. According to Cancer Research UK, patients and carers describe pain management as ‘hard work’, with difficulties shown across three main areas: living life, pain management and cancer management. NHS Innovation Accelerator has revealed one possible answer to this: a new partnership between LumiraDx Care Solutions and My mHealth to deliver an ‘engage’ patient app enabling patients to learn how to manage their condition while staying in touch with their care team. The platform promises to not only improve patient’s life, but also reduce the burden on the NHS, a crucial consideration at time when there are huge struggles due to staff shortages and underfunding.  

 

Delivering the platform that cancer patients need

So how can healthcare providers design a patient-centred platform that works? Seamless patient-doctor communication is key. By providing expert, informed and personalised advice, such a platform could empower patients in their journey to recovery. Unlocking one-click management for appointments, treatment and any payments, and an easy-to-follow care plan would help to decrease the time (and money) spent by both patients, carers and HCPs.

Peer forums can be beneficial too. Providing a place where patients can be heard and talk to others going through the same treatment can boost morale and facilitate recovery by building authentic human connections and helping patients feel significantly less lonely. This is crucial because research shows that lonely cancer patients are three times more likely to struggle with treatment. Devising a platform helping them to connect with doctors and peers is one way to improve their situation.

Of course one of the crucial success drivers is showcasing the platform’s real value to HCPs and nurses and proving it’s not just digital for digital’s sake. Without their support and willingness to educate patients on a platform’s benefits, there’s a danger high market adoption will be blocked. To drive repeat usage, and ensure both HCPs and patients are on board, brands should remember the platform is there to ease patients’ care – not to add to the workload cancer patients and HCPs are already under.

Having cancer and undergoing treatment is always likely to be a stressful, anxiety-inducing and potentially frightening experience. But with the right digital tools, as well as the right treatment, we can provide better support and possibly contribute to better outcomes for thousands, even millions of people.

  

At BIO, we’ve worked with a number of healthcare and pharma brands to aid patient experience with digital tools and customer experience design. Interested to learn more? Drop us an email at newbiz@thebioagency.com.

Peter Veash | CEOShare article |
Peter Veash | CEOShare article |
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