Digital Therapeutics in Oncology

5 minute read

The integration of digital therapeutics in the oncology care pathway is essential to ensure patients are supported during chemotherapy and to avoid unnecessary visits to hospital.

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.

The rise of AI

It’s not just healthcare providers and cancer patients that are benefiting from the dawn of digital therapeutics. Pharmaceutical companies are also realizing the potential of data generated which can aid in drug development. 

As companies face competitive markets in oncology, AI-based platforms combined with machine learning can enable key insights on current cancer treatments which can be integrated into clinical trials.

Manufacturers that are capitalizing on the engagement opportunities mobile apps present and adapt adherence programs to their patients’ digital habits will stand a greater chance of helping improve outcomes.

Now, with AI and machine learning powered platforms being integrated into the clinical pathway, remote monitoring via smartphones is gaining traction. Smartphone apps are beneficial due to their practical, convenient, and widespread use. 

Healthcare providers can also be connected more easily, transforming the hospital experience and the ability to manage higher patient volumes. AI algorithms are used for early identification of adverse events and to rapidly classify patients by disease severity. 

Higher standards of care, lower costs

The need for solutions that can decrease costs and increase patient satisfaction has never been greater. Digital therapeutics will be crucial to reduce the economic burden of cancer care. Cancer care costs are rising globally and, in the US, alone, are projected to exceed $245 billion by 2030. For many healthcare systems, cost and convenience will be at the forefront of their decision-making.

COVID-19 has highlighted how digital technology can keep patients healthier in their homes following discharge from hospital. As health systems increasingly adopt digital therapeutics and integrate them into cancer treatment, oncology patients will benefit from high quality care and the burden of unnecessary hospital visits.

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