Lack of Patient Engagement During COVID Allows Cancer to go Unnoticed

Background

Healthcare workers are beginning to worry about the next possible outbreak: cancer. The pandemic has caused patients to delay care and pass up preventive screening opportunities. In 2020, there were 10 million missed cancer screenings1. This can lead to more advanced stages of cancer and decreased life expectancy. Furthermore, the pandemic has resulted in delayed cancer research and treatment, which can lead to more cancer deaths1. 99% of research grants recipients who participated in a survey said the pandemic negatively impacted their work1. Patients may delay appointments and think there are no consequences, but the long-term effects are detrimental. In fact, only 8% of patients had access to recommended preventive services in 20182. This is due to the lack of provider encouragement and consumer engagement. These reasons may be lack of alerts, lack of portal services, and even lack of effective communication with their providers.

Solutions

Improving Portal Services

The key to preventing the potential cancer outbreak is to encourage patients to be more involved in their healthcare treatment plans. It is imperative that doctors send alerts for cancer screenings and encourage positive relationships with their patients. The portal services must include 24/7 telehealth services as well as text messaging so patients can reach their care team when needed. Portal services also need to have educational tools where patients can access information on personalized services and resources3. Portal services need to allow patients to engage with the care team ranging from general questions about their care to remote services that provide whole-person care. Another important portal feature is allowing data tracking for patients using wearables3. Remote patient monitoring can track weight, blood pressure, and even daily activity to alert patients and medical staff if there is a concern and additional appointments are needed. 

Promoting Patient & Caregiver Engagement

Another innovation to promote patient engagement among cancer patients is to create solutions that involve cancer patients’ families in the treatment plan. When providers included caretakers in the treatment plan, there was a 25% decrease in readmission for the first 90 days4. For the first 180 days, the readmission rate decreased by 24%4. However, family caregivers must be given access to medical records as well as support and resources from providers. This can be done by improving portal services and allowing direct communication with the care team, as well as real-time access to health records. 70% of caregivers didn’t feel that they had the resources to provide proper treatment to their family members4. Providers can give the proper tools for caregivers to provide effective treatment, and health IT professionals can close the gap to promote continuous communication with the care team.

Conclusion

Cancer screenings are important and missing them can lead to increased advanced stages of cancer due to delayed treatment and diagnosis. It is crucial that health IT professionals create innovative solutions that keep patients and their families engaged in the treatment plan and provide tools for them to communicate with their doctors. Patients have to be more involved in their health in order to promote preventive care and overall wellness.

References

1. https://www.medpagetoday.com/hematologyoncology/othercancers/97131

2. https://www.vox.com/coronavirus-covid19/22841229/covid-19-us-cancer-screenings 

3. https://mhealthintelligence.com/features/key-elements-of-top-mobile-patient-portal-apps

4. https://patientengagementhit.com/news/how-providers-can-improve-patient-experience-during-cancer-treatments