November 23, 2020

A Case Study on the Benefits and Challenges of Cancer Monitoring With Digital Apps

According to a case study written by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU), "Advances in smartphone technology, healthcare provider information and communications technology infrastructure has enabled the development of new clinical pathways involving app-based remote patient monitoring. Patient monitoring apps allow patients with chronic diseases to report on their condition from outside of the hospital – where they spend most of their time – putting the patient, rather than the hospital, at the center of the care pathway."

What is more, "A high society-wide level of smartphone penetration has presented a large market for developers, with apps now used in clinical practice for chronic disease management in diabetes, chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure and oncology. However, up until the covid-19 pandemic struck, the development of technological capabilities within healthcare had largely outpaced the capacity to implement many novel remote patient monitoring apps as part of real-world practice."

Titled Outside the hospital: cancer monitoring with apps, the study explains that the "covid-19 pandemic initiated a rapid reorganization of healthcare delivery systems, raising awareness of these digital tools that physicians can use to provide care outside hospitals. Chronic disease monitoring apps vary widely in their functionality but increasingly rely on patients to capture health data that can help inform clinical decision-making. This has enabled a high degree of patient-centricity, varying from enabling behavioral nudges from clinicians to providing real-time updates to care teams with on-demand care capabilities for patients."

Commissioned by Siemens Healthineers, a multinational digital healthcare company based in Germany, The EIU's study explores "the use of remote monitoring, particularly in oncology. We review recent health system developments, challenges to implementation of these digital tools and the emerging opportunities for their sustainable use throughout health systems."

The study presents the following benefits in using monitoring apps:
  • Patient monitoring apps can provide real-time data on cancer patients, thereby enabling much faster feedback loops between individuals and their healthcare teams.
  • Clinicians can develop personalized cancer care plans that respond to patient behaviors and support better management of adverse events related to treatment.
  • Cancer apps could support a reduction in healthcare costs arising from preventable hospital admissions.
  • They can help to improve a patient's quality of life by allowing them to become participants in co-creating their care and opening the door for shared decision-making.

Conversely, challenges of using monitoring apps include:
  • Reimbursement pathways for mobile health tools have traditionally been a barrier to implementation, but leveraging beyond the pandemic could accelerate adoption into clinical pathways.
  • Healthcare providers need to invest in ICT infrastructure that can rapidly translate data from apps into actionable and meaningful insights for clinicians – without becoming an additional administrative burden.
  • Providers will need to invest in different skills for digital workflows, or new roles will be required within healthcare settings, to support the digital patient journey.
  • Confidence in these tools could be achieved with the use of digital formularies.
  • Healthcare providers and developers will need to continue to work together to prioritize the standardization of apps so that they are interoperable across health systems. As regulations differ across geographies, this will require taking into account factors including different IT architecture, connectivity requirements, and data sharing and communication standards.

"Mobile apps can provide a more valuable, real-time dataset by enabling a much faster feedback loop between patients and their care teams," the study importantly notes. "Increased reactivity allows for deeply personalized cancer care plans that respond to patient behaviors, in addition to better management of adverse events related to treatment, a reduction in healthcare costs arising from preventable hospital admissions and ultimately improved patient quality of life. These apps provide an avenue for patients to become participants in co-creating their care pathway and open the door for shared decision-making, which may have other behavioral benefits in terms of adherence."

Having engaged with companies developing digital solutions for the healthcare industry for over ten years, I have witnessed significant advances in innovative technologies and services that provide a direct benefit for the patient. While I acknowledge the existence of the aforementioned challenges, I remain optimistic that the healthcare industry worldwide will continue to evolve to incorporate patient-centric tools including remote monitoring apps. In doing so, patients will enjoy a sense of empowerment when the receive their health information in real-time. This information will also enable the patient's healthcare team to formulate a collaborative plan with the patient to combat diseases such as cancer.

What benefits and challenges do you see in the use of patient monitoring apps?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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