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Despite Challenges with Mass Implementation, Digital Health Solutions in Oncology Can Help Shift to At-Home Care

Pharmacy Times spoke with Amila Patel, PharmD, chief clinical officer at Navigating Cancer, to learn about digital health solutions in oncology and what she sees for the future of these solutions.

What are digital health solutions and how are they used?

Amila Patel, PharmD: Yeah, so digital health solutions is really a broad term that applies to any tools that are at the intersection of technology and health care. And so, this umbrella term can really apply to tools that face providers (like the electronic health record), patient-facing tools like a patient portal, as well as solutions that are used by clinical research staff, as well. At Navigating Cancer, our digital health solution comprises products that are used by both providers and patients and spans a care management platform that’s used to document, manage, and triage all of the events that are coming in for patients; a patient portal; a remote monitoring application that’s used by patients when they’re on treatment to track their symptoms and oral adherence information; as well as digital education materials that are provided to patients.

How are these solutions specifically impactful in an oncology context?

Amila Patel, PharmD: Yeah, so oncology patients are quite complex. They require multiple touchpoints over their cancer journey and engage with lots of different members of the health care team to get appropriate care. In oncology, specifically, we’ve seen how these tools can help reduce emergency department visits and hospitalizations, as well as keep patients on their treatment longer. But not all of these touch points with the care team need to happen through a clinic visit, or even over the phone. You know, by using these tools, we can start to really shift the care for patients to more of an at-home care delivery. So, for example, if a patient is having some fatigue, they can report remotely through a mobile device to their care team that they’re having that mild fatigue and get an immediate review and intervention from a member of the clinic staff. And they can, you know, go ahead and provide them with digital instructions for how to manage that fatigue, all from the comfort of their home. You know, I really think that over the last 2 years, we’ve all collectively empathized with the ability to be at home with our loved ones, and how much that has meant for our wellbeing. And I think, you know, cancer patients are no different.

What are some challenges with mass implementation of these solutions, and why are they not more widely implemented?

Amila Patel, PharmD: Yeah, so I think there’s kind of multiple factors that are causing that. So first, on the patient side, there are a number of barriers that have to be taken into consideration, including, you know, their technology literacy, whether they have access to broadband internet, the right devices to be used, their language preferences. All of those kinds of sociodemographic factors and social determinants of health certainly play into patients’ ability to adopt these solutions. And then on the provider side, you know, the process can be quite resource intensive and requires a significant commitment from the clinical staff and leadership within the clinics to adopt these solutions.

Do you have recommendations for how these solutions can be more widely used and implemented?

Amila Patel, PharmD: Yeah, I think, you know, first and foremost, strong collaboration between technology vendors and the clinical team, as well as the administrative team at these various clinics is really important to ensure that, as we’re developing these products, that from the onset of design and development, we’re really thinking about what’s best for the patient and best for the clinic staff up front. In addition to that, making sure that as these tools are implemented, it’s not too overburdened [for] the staff is really important as well. And then, you know, lastly, I talked about the resource intensive process. I think providers all collectively believe and realize the potential for these types of tools, but that really needs to be coupled with reimbursement so that all the care activities that they’re doing and providing for these patients through these platforms is capitalized upon.

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