This year, more than 1.7 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States, with breast cancer as the largest contributor. With 600,000 deaths expected from cancer, the net result will be an increase of more than a million cancer patients who will require treatment from an already over-burdened healthcare system.
The problem is, just as in other areas of medicine, the rate of new oncology specialists is lower than the increasing demand, creating a shortage of providers. By 2025, the U.S. is projected to have a shortfall of 2,250 oncologists. In addition, specialists are concentrated in urban areas, making access difficult for cancer patients in rural parts of the country and creating long waits for in-person visits.
But, as it is with other areas of healthcare, connected health may be able to help close the gap between patients and care, with the potential to increase both quality and affordability of ongoing treatment by broadening access and improving the way doctors diagnose, treat, and monitor patients. Services like telehealth and remote patient monitoring can increase the capacity of providers and help address the growing demand.
There are a number of ways connected health solutions can help bridge this gap today and some ways we see connected health aiding in the future.
Using data collected from patients – both patient provided and through RPM devices – large databases can be built that include patient histories, genetic data, condition-specific information, and treatment and response data. Providers can then access this data to compare their patients to other similar cases to determine risk levels or appropriate treatments. As the use of artificial intelligence grows, AI engines may also be able to identify at-risk patients or treatment protocols with higher success probabilities and deliver that information to physicians, allowing them to spend more time with patients themselves.
Using telehealth solutions, home nurses can connect with oncologists to deliver home cancer treatment. They can communicate as needed with physicians during treatment, including recording patient vital signs into the digital system. At-home treatment allows greater flexibility for treatment scheduling, allows patients to be treated in more familiar and comfortable settings, and can reduce costs for providers, patients, and insurance carriers. Using nurses to deliver home treatment can also reduce office visits, giving physicians more time to see patients that need in-person visits.
Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation, can impact patient’s bodies. Remote patient monitoring solutions can record patients’ vital signs and automatically transmit them to telehealth platforms and append them to patient records, where physicians are able to easily review them to understand the effect of treatments. Doctors can also be immediately alerted if vital signs reach defined thresholds, indicating something may be wrong, so patients, caregivers, or nurses can intervene quickly and hopefully avoid additional office visits or hospitalization. RPM can also help monitor patient behaviors to ensure consistency with treatment plans for different types of cancer.
Genetics play a larger role with some cancers, like breast cancer. Connected health platforms can be used to conduct risk assessments using predictive models using historical data and advanced algorithms. At-risk patients can then be scheduled for virtual consultations to help determine next steps, including genetic testing, medical treatment, or other programs. The ability to conduct initial steps using virtual technologies can reduce costs, increase access for patients, simplify scheduling, and reduce in-office visits.
Store and forward technologies allow physicians to share patient data with other specialists for consultative advice, or to share clinical experiences and results with other providers as a means of providing education on treating patients.
Support Groups and Counseling
Cancer patients and caregivers can make use of virtual technologies to interact with support groups to help them manage and deal with potentially life-threatening conditions. Virtual care sessions can also be used to connect with professional counselors, including mental health professionals he further help patients and families deal with grief or to get advice from providers regarding treatment, activity, or other concerns.
Cancer treatment can take a toll on not only patients, but also their families other caregivers and even physicians, physically, time-wise, emotionally, and financially. Connected health technologies can help alleviate some of these strains, improve the quality and cost of cancer care, and allow physicians to spend their valuable time in patient-facing scenarios.
To learn more about how connected health solutions can help increase care quality, efficiency, and affordability, connect with us here.