Oncology patients are very often immunocompromised, due to their illness and its treatment, and therefore more than usually susceptible to infection. Therefore, visiting healthcare facilities can increase their health risks.
The current clinical pathway for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy requires them to visit the hospital once for a blood test and then again for treatment. If a patient’s white blood cells are not within the right parameters, the next cycle of chemotherapy cannot begin, and the patient is sent home. Studies have also shown that many emergency department visits by chemotherapy patients are preventable with well-coordinated care and adequate symptom management.
The adoption of telehealth during COVID-19 has already enabled more oncology patients to receive support in the comfort of their own homes, and digital therapeutics can take that even further.
Decreasing Unnecessary Hospital Visits
Modern technology is increasing patients’ connectivity to the healthcare system through mobile communications and remote physiologic monitoring. Monitoring systems have been used most extensively for cardiovascular diseases such as congestive heart failure and arrhythmia detection and are now emerging in oncology.
The application of digital therapeutics within outpatient oncology includes personalizing digital messages to patients’ specific clinical and lifestyle issues, such as disease and medication management, emotional support, and other social determinants of health. These conveniently accessed resources give patients the support they desire, without them needing to access primary care services. This in turn frees up healthcare professionals to focus on other patients and issues.
While digital solutions can help chemotherapy patients manage their symptoms at home, they also can provide feedback to healthcare providers about the patients’ fatigue, sleep, and physical exercise.
For patients that require long-term monitoring, digital therapeutics may help decrease rates of hospitalization and visits to the emergency department and improve overall survival. It encourages engagement of both the patient and provider on a personal level, rather than occasional check-ups.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Digital therapeutics are also crucial tools to protect the immunocompromised, where hospital visits are especially risky. During the COVID-19 pandemic, chemotherapy patients were some of the largest patient populations to be at risk and creating a safe, physical environment for them to attend hospital visits was particularly challenging.
Services dramatically changed in many different countries, with local hospitals increasing treatment outside of the hospital, including fast-tracking the use of ‘chemo buses’ so people could receive life-saving care without having to travel long distances.
These solutions were essential and can be complemented with the use of digital therapeutics for remote monitoring and symptom management.