Efforts to improve cancer outcomes and address the inequalities around access to and quality of care, were a priority for the NHS well before the coronavirus pandemic. But the last two years have had a significant impact and added significant strain on the cancer care workforce and treatment pathways.
According to a recent report by the Department of Health and Social Care, in September 2021, 32% of patients waited longer than 62 days to start cancer treatment from the point of diagnosis. This is a stark contrast to the state of cancer care prior to the pandemic, where only 4% of people diagnosed with cancer and put on a list for treatment had to wait more than a month for their treatment to start. Finding out you have cancer is a diagnosis nobody wants to hear; then having to wait up to 3 months for treatment to start – I can’t even imagine the anguish.
Beyond this, a recent report by Macmillan Cancer Support estimated that 50,000 people across the UK are currently ‘missing diagnoses’, meaning they haven’t come forward to have their symptoms checked, and have not been diagnosed in order to receive treatment. The same report found that more than 650,000 people with cancer in the UK, or 22%, have experienced disruption to their cancer treatment because of COVID-19.
To help support the cancer recovery plan and work through the backlog caused by the pandemic, healthcare providers must look to embrace digital technology that helps to unlock clinical capacity and increase throughout.
Through digital cancer care solutions that offer support to the patient and healthcare professionals throughout the cancer pathway, healthcare providers can start to leverage both real time and longitudinal data and insight. Digital cancer care may enable healthcare providers to safely scale the number of patients they can treat, for example enabling faster and better informed consultations, increased self administration, earlier intervention when complications arise and more patient initiated follow ups. This enhanced visibility over patients’ wellbeing beyond the hospital walls is imperative to driving efficiencies whilst improving the patient outcomes of those living with cancer.
Relieving backlog pressures
Healthcare providers are being called to expand the quality of care and be more integrated in its approach, putting people in control of their own treatment and promoting patient self-management. The NHS Long Term Plan includes a commitment to making personalised care, ‘business as usual’ across the health and care system. The Long Term Plan also calls for the NHS to be more proactive in the services it provides, with more differentiated support for individuals to reduce healthcare disparities and improve patient outcomes, which have been worsened by visibility, communication and coordination difficulties posed by the pandemic. Earlier this month, Sajid Javid, The Health and Social Care Secretary set out his determination to build on the progress of the NHS Long Term Plan with the ‘10-Year Cancer Plan’. A key area of focus is to build a world class cancer workforce to help the NHS’s recovery. The plan includes a combination of developing new roles along with training and upskilling the current workforce.
Blending digital technology with in-person care and patient empowerment will play a crucial role in creating organisational efficiencies, which will aid the recovery plan. Productivity gains, early intervention and more patient initiated consultations will enable scarce clinical time to be used effectively for prioritised instances and for the hard to reach or digitally excluded population.
We are witnessing an acceleration in the adoption of digital solutions as healthcare providers look to ensure patients have access to the right support at the right time, throughout their treatment.
Leveraging data to improve cancer care
Digital cancer care can be a catalyst to necessary change in the way we measure health in services such as cancer care. While healthcare providers routinely measure indicators of disease severity, its progression and recurrence as well as side effects of treatment, we rarely measure the overall health status and needs of the individual living and dealing with this complex disease.
A one-size-fits-all approach to cancer care leads to inequalities in terms of access and poses a risk to patient outcomes. Supported patient self-management tools and other new technologies recognise that individuals will benefit from personalised care in different ways.
Now through digital technology, people living with cancer can take control of their treatment. They can connect to their medical professionals, sharing data and aiding routine monitoring of health-related quality of life for every individual, which can improve health outcomes. Patients can share key health metrics such as vital signs, symptoms, side effects and medication adherence, enabling healthcare providers and services to deliver an efficient, safe and scalable model of care.
Access to longitudinal data is helpful in planning a patient’s treatment and monitoring any issues that may pose a risk to patient outcomes. With organisations across all sectors embracing new ways of working, we hear a lot about the importance of “digital innovation” but it is not a fanciful word of aspiration within cancer care. At this moment, it will be a determining factor in how the public and private sectors across the UK can rebuild and deliver world-class cancer care.
This article was first published in Hospital Hub.
Careology is building the world’s leading digital cancer care platform. By equipping and seamlessly connecting patients, caregivers and healthcare teams in a complex pathway, our mission is to use technology to transform traditional cancer care and change everyone’s cancer story for the better. Today the platform allows patients to manage and navigate all aspects of treatment from their device, while leveraging critical data on symptoms, medications, side effects and more, to deliver insight and analysis to clinical teams through a ‘virtual ward’. By increasing the potential for patients to self-serve, improving workflows, making 24/7 monitoring possible and putting a unique data set to work, we are helping to relieve pressure on health systems, while reducing costs, improving patient and clinician experience, and optimising health outcomes.