What is the role of digital within oncology?
In recent years, digital has evolved into its own distinct asset class for healthcare organizations of any size, and is a necessary strategic pillar in any long-term strategy. For an especially complex service line like oncology, organizations that prioritize digital are uniquely positioned to meet increased needs for exploration and education, support patients and their caregivers through lengthy and stressful care journeys, and empower care teams to spend more time engaged in direct patient care. Digital solutions can relieve staffing shortages, offer new services, create workflow efficiencies, expand access and help realize downstream revenue.
Stakeholders' needs vary, but digital can improve experience for all
Oncology-focused solutions exist within a broad framework and support patients, caregivers, and care teams through screening, diagnosis, treatment, second opinions and referrals, and ongoing support and coordination. Some example areas include:
|For caregivers||• Education
• Caregiver skills training
• Community resources
• Coping resources
• Emotional and grief counseling
|For patients||• Core patient capabilities (transactions and interactions)
• Whole person care (social, financial, emotional, and spiritual needs)
• Clinical trial and second opinion navigation
• Treatment support
• Survivorship support
|For care teams||• Care coordination
• Vital sign surveillance/remote monitoring
• Virtual tumor boards
• Patient navigation
• Clinical decision support
• Care team communication
• Clinical and quality analytics
The case for digital within oncology
Responding to business trends
Creating positive digital experiences for all
A positive digital experience is a key predictor of an enhanced care experience overall for nearly 40 percent of patients, and half of consumers agree that bad digital experiences detract from the overall patient experience. Health systems and cancer centers that leverage the appropriate digital capabilities are better equipped to deliver the convenient and personalized experience that consumers expect while supporting all stakeholders–patients, caregivers, and care teams–through the cancer treatment journey.
While stakeholder needs vary widely, digital tools can deliver a variety of advantages that improve the experience for all:
|Caregivers||• Consistent and up-to-date information on patient condition and treatment progress
• Tools and information to help them advocate for patients who are unable to manage their own care
• Information about community or peer group support
|Patients||• Navigational support for complex clinical and financial journeys
• Real-time access to care teams and ongoing symptom management
• Access to holistic care and community resources
|Care teams||• Effective coordination and communication between care team members
• Enhanced relationships with referring providers
• Reduced administrative burden
Addressing equity challenges
Equity remains a significant challenge. Early screening often misses the country’s uninsured population as they visit the doctor infrequently to avoid expensive bills. Additionally, patients who do not live in urban centers still lack access to advanced testing. Moreover, many low-income Americans live in ZIP codes that lack accessible healthy food options, increasing their risk of developing obesity and physical inactivity-related cancers.
Health systems can leverage digital capabilities to extend their reach to these traditionally underserved populations. Digital health companies are developing culturally and linguistically tailored platforms that accommodate patients with varying digital literacy levels, extend hours of availability through virtual channels, and investing in tools that address social determinants and close care gaps.
Opportunities for digital in oncology
Whole person care
- Digital capabilities to address the patient’s physical, emotional, social and financial needs that play a critical role in reducing anxiety, improving outcomes, and minimizing disruptions to daily life. For example, digital offers the ability to deliver behavioral health care and support a patients’ spiritual coping.
- Key example sub-capabilities: financial navigation, social needs, spirituality and mindfulness, behavioral health resources
Core patient capabilities
- Digital offers the ability to create a more seamless and personalized experience for patients to engage in administrative transactions and clinical interactions.
- Key example sub-capabilities: provider search and match, appointment coordination, virtual visits and remote monitoring, patient payments
- Digital capabilities to ease access and decision making. For example, stakeholders can more easily connect with leading experts for second opinions and expand patient access to clinical trials.
- Key example sub-capabilities: virtual/video second opinion consultations, simplified scheduling, records and specimen sharing, digital concierge services
- Digital capabilities to improve patient experience, adherence and outcomes during treatment. For example, providers can supplement care with symptom management between clinic visits, efficiently manage complex care plans, and engage in shared decision-making with patients and their loved ones.
- Key example sub-capabilities: virtual check-ins, reminders and notifications, patient education, care coordination documentation, metrics collection, actionable insights, population-level reports and analytics
- Digital capabilities for ongoing support and coordination for example. providers can leverage digital to develop effective programs to support the needs of survivors, while survivors can connect with others and enjoy a supportive community.
- Key example sub-capabilities: follow-up care planning and data collection tools, survivor discussion boards and chat rooms
- Digital capabilities allow caregivers to meaningfully and actively participate in the cancer care journey.
- Key sub-capabilities: Caregiver skills training, education, community resources, coping resources, emotional and grief counseling
- Digital capabilities to optimize care team workflows and improve care team experience
- Key sub-capabilities: Care coordination, remote monitoring, virtual tumor boards, clinical decision support, clinical and quality analytics, care team communication
Organizing for digital oncology success
- An enterprise strategy that leverages digital to enable all elements.
- Strong alignment and accountability across all senior leadership.
- Governance structure that supports sufficient staffing and skill mix.
- Meaningful resources budgeted for digital each year.
- Aggressive top-down goals and KPIs.
- Gaining a clear picture of expected patient demand and projected growth.
- Examining available provider capacity to accommodate virtual care offerings.
- Getting buy-in from clinicians and staff.
- Upgrading or consolidating technical infrastructure and hardware as needed.
Long-term success for health systems depends on deploying solutions that prioritize patient and provider experiences equally. With careful preparation and a methodical approach to vendor assessment and selection, health systems can increase patient satisfaction, deliver enhanced convenience, enable greater access, improve operational efficiency, and expand catchment areas through enhanced digital oncology capabilities.