Adam Sodowick

Engaging cancer patients using existing technology

March 03, 2023
by Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief
With cancer rates on the rise, providers are looking for new strategies and techniques to address the problem. The solution may lie in patient engagement: If doctors know more about their patients, they can develop better treatment plans, and address social barriers that may hinder care delivery.

But, how can providers engage patients to learn more about their everyday lives? Further, how can learning more about patients fuel new care initiatives, such as outreach for the early detection of cancer?

Healthcare Business News interviews Adam Sodowick, chief innovation officer & cofounder at Patient Discovery to discuss strategies to engage cancer patients using existing technology.

HCB News: What type of information do oncologists currently collect from patients? And what type of information are they not collecting that could impact care delivery and outcomes?
Adam Sodowick: Oncologists collect a deep and complex amount of clinical data that continues to grow as advancements in cancer research progress apace. Growing in importance however is the demand to also capture information on the non-medical data influencing clinical outcomes. Specifically, data related to social determinants of health (SDOH) and related social needs. 93 percent of surveyed oncologists agree that SDOH have a significant impact on patient outcomes, but 81 percent also acknowledge they and their staff have limited time to address these needs. Beyond the cost of inequities in the industry, which are significant, it is estimated that 34 percent of cancer deaths among U.S. adults ages 25 to 74 could be prevented if socioeconomic disparities were eliminated. There’s overwhelming alignment in healthcare that this needs to be addressed.

HCB News: What role does data play in all of this? What strategies can doctors deploy to improve the data they get from and about their patients?
AS: It is essential that care teams capture and address information on the practical day-to-day challenges influencing treatment adherence and outcomes. Health-related social needs such as transportation to and from appointments, food security, access to support for elder or childcare – all affect clinical outcomes. The challenge for providers is that they have a limited amount of time to collect this information and current processes are still largely dependent on a person, whether it be an advocate, nurse, or another member of the care team, taking responsibility for manually recording this data and following up with patients over time to determine if needs have been resolved. Adding further complexity, there is also a lack of approved standards for capturing and normalizing this data, which creates additional burden for providers and systems seeking to measure the efficacy and impact of interventions.

Fortunately, this is an area that is receiving much needed attention across the industry with significant investments being made in solutions for empowering providers to efficiently identify and address social determinants of health. The rapid adoption of digital health tools spurred by the pandemic has created tremendous opportunity for rethinking how patients are engaged on the non-medical influences impacting their care. For example, there are emerging technologies being deployed that give patients the opportunity to self-report appointment priorities, health-related social needs, treatment concerns and preferences, prior to their appointments. This approach not only removes the burden of discovery from providers, but it also empowers patients to share more openly and honestly with their care teams about the non-medical factors influencing their care. Patients who may otherwise feel shame or discomfort in speaking directly with their providers on topics such as housing or food security, have a platform to share comfortably and can be directed in real-time to support resources and services available to them. Care teams can likewise be empowered to triage patient problems before they walk through the door, and track and monitor patient data at an aggregate level as more patients engage with the technology.

HCB News: A lot of cancer rates are on the rise, and everyone knows screening is the best form of prevention. How can we improve cancer screenings?
AS: Education is essential to improving cancer screening rates, which may seem remedial to a certain degree, but it is a frequently overlooked step. We should not assume that patients understand why cancer screening is so important. It is imperative that we meet individuals where they are and normalize cancer screening as an essential part of care. We need to help destigmatize cancer screenings and help patients understand that many cancers can be prevented or treated successfully if caught early enough.

Thankfully we’re seeing more resources being employed towards this effort. The NFL’s Crucial Catch initiative is a great example. The NFL in partnership with the American Cancer Society is using their platform to help individuals better understand early detection and ways to reduce cancer risk – such as cancer screenings.

HCB News: A lot of this is a health equity and access issue. What steps can be taken to ensure underserved and uninsured patients have access to cancer screenings and care?
AS: The first and most essential step to addressing equity and access in cancer care, is listening to, and understanding the patient. We need to give patients a platform to share comfortably and honestly the unique challenges they face based on the environments they were born, raised, live, or work in. We need to empower them to communicate the social needs inhibiting their ability to achieve their best health. And we need to make it easy.

We need to leverage emerging innovations to help us meet patients where they are and connect them to the community resources that can help. The resources are there, but we need to bridge the gaps in education and access for the patient. Patient-centered technologies that capture the patient-voice and identify the practical social and access challenges they face, will help empower the industry to efficiently and proactively provide support, and successfully advance health equity initiatives.