Hospitals must shift cancer strategy to encourage patients to thrive, not survive

The healthcare community needs to rethink cancer treatments to make them more personal, with outcomes tailored to each patient's needs, and do a better job of coordinating care and helping patients navigate that journey, according to a new paper from PwC.

Those tenets, along with embracing digital technology to improve quality of life during cancer treatment, will help patients handle medical and non-medical aspects of having cancer, PwC said in an announcement. In other words, hospitals must shift their focus from cancer survival, which not everyone will achieve, to helping patients thrive throughout the "cancer experience."

"The research shows that people diagnosed with cancer want care that is personalized, flexible and coordinated, that recognizes there are needs that go beyond the provision of medical treatment and services and that gives them a greater say in what their outcome might be," according to the paper.

The problems, as PwC described, are that organizations can do more to communicate initial diagnosis and treatment; gaps exist in involving patients in key decisions; and care can appear fragmented even when it is coordinated.

Providers especially noted they can't spend enough time with patients to address their needs.

"In treating cancer, health systems must enable clinicians to be able to treat the whole person, not just the disease, and go beyond tests and treatments to address the non-medical aspects of cancer," according to the report. "By doing so, they can help patients to thrive, regardless of their prognosis."

Digital technology can "equip people to navigate their cancer experience seamlessly" by providing information in a range of forms, PwC concluded. Digital information can help patients make smart treatment choices based on the outcomes they seek, help them navigate the system and prepare them for the next step, help them make choices about providers, get feedback on the last step of care to tailor the next round, and contact specialists at a convenient time and place.

"But the adoption of digital technologies is slow in healthcare compared to other sectors, making it likely, in our estimation, that a new digital entrant, working with a cancer center, will very likely disrupt the way cancer care is provided," the report cautioned.

The report includes steps providers, payers and policymakers can take to make the transition.

"New funding and reimbursement models will be needed as well as new regulatory models and metrics. Policymakers will need to move quicker just to keep up, and partnerships with new entrants as well as public and private investment will be key," the researchers concluded.

The field of precision medicine promises to deliver on at least part of the goal of individualized care. But to date, the cost and time involved in the DNA sequencing and molecular imaging required to personalize cancer treatment stand in the way. The Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University and Intel are trying to reduce the time from six months today to one day by 2020.

When the ultimate outcome is death, dying at home is more peaceful than dying in a hospital, previous research has found. Pain levels were similar to those experienced by patients in hospitals, but patients at home were more at peace in their last week of life.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- download the paper (.pdf)