Patient engagement and empowerment tools enhance cancer care process

According to a recent survey, approximately 90% of patients with chronic illnesses need assistance with disease management, and 70% need healthcare providers to supply them with more educational resources [1]. However, the tools that have traditionally been in place do not provide the optimal level of assistance and communication to meet the needs of patients.

In essence, to improve health outcomes, patients and caregivers need to have access to tools that provide prognosis and procedural education, allowing for effective communication with the cancer care team. When patients are informed, they are able to express the urgency of their needs to better navigate through their care continuum.

In oncology, controlling and treating cancer ranges across a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Treatment measures can be effective in stopping tumor progression, managing pain, and extending life. These may be accompanied with unintentional side effects, ranging from short-term and transient to long-term and persistent that can arise years after the first treatment.

Patient portals containing electronic personal health records linked to health systems, patient reported outcomes, and patient-centered education are currently recognized as promising tools to enhance health outcomes. Studies show that patient engagement throughout diagnostic, workup, and treatment, improves patient-provider relationships, enhances patient safety, and empowers patients and their caregivers [2].

Portals allow health professionals the ability to efficiently “track preventive measures such as screening tests and immunizations [3]”, and enable shared-decision making between health professionals and the patient. Communication between patients and the care team is enhanced with careful documentation of each interaction. A study by Easley et al. highlights that better communication among health professionals and with patients is the most common factor contributing to a positive experience within cancer care coordination [4]. When health professionals are given suitable tools to further enhance health literacy and promote self-management – patient outcomes throughout cancer treatment and survivorship planning improve.

Patient safety is further enhanced through the usage of portals that allow the tracking of stages of care in a centralized manner [5]. When supplemented with other software tools (i.e. tailored evidence-based educational articles, and patient reported outcomes and questionnaires) patients are able to monitor their health and efficiently report their status to the care provider.

Equicare Health is amongst the leading patient navigation health IT companies, currently serving over 250,000 oncology patients at over 240 cancer centers across the globe. Equicare Health provides efficient communication tools, a platform of educational content, and patient reported outcomes and questionnaires. The aim is to empower oncology navigation teams, caregivers and their patients.

The educational content provided is personalized for the patient and their care team. Equicare’s partnership with Oncolink and the inclusion of comprehensive drug fact sheets provides patients access to an extensive set of cancer educational content. Equicare has integrated Oncolink’s Education Library into their system to allow for timely and appropriate education provision.

Patient reported outcomes and questionnaires are measurements of any aspect of a patient’s health status that are provided directly from the individual [6]. They can provide invaluable information for timely risk management and assessing the overall effectiveness of cancer interventions. Cancer care organizations have begun integrating patient reported outcomes into their routine clinical practice. The hope is to improve cancer symptom screening and management across their jurisdiction.

Informal patient reported outcome measures in cancer care have always been in play. However, it has only been recently that there is growing interest on collecting information in a systematic and efficient manner through electronic collection and e-patient reported outcomes. Electronic collection yields reliable data that are of higher quality than health professional reported data that, in turn, facilitate conversation and increase patient involvement in their care.

Written by Dorri Mahdaviani , who holds a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from the University of British Columbia (UBC). Her academic and professional interests include the areas of chronic illnesses, health care systems and childhood health and development. 

Infographics and Design by Ann Wong, who holds a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada. She is an author of over 10 SCI publications, having taught at UBC and the Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC) in Beijing.