A Number of Cancer Patients Desire Greater Involvement in Treatment Decisions as a Result of COVID-19 and They Can Have It

Sixty percent of patients likely to move forward with a healthcare decision not recommended by their physician, according to a TrialJectory Survey.

A majority of cancer patients (66%) want to be more involved in their healthcare-related treatment decisions as a result of the pandemic. Additionally, most respondents (60%) indicated they would likely move forward with a healthcare decision not recommended by their physician, according to a recent survey conducted by TrialJectory, an AI-powered digital health platform that servers cancer patients to find advanced new treatment options and enables the pharmaceutical industry to effectively design and recruit for clinical trials.

Tzvia Bader, co-founder / CEO of TrialJectory said the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted in-person care for cancer patients in need. Treatments were delayed, frequency of appointments decreased and 1:1 communication fully transitioned to the use of telemedicine platforms.

During the pandemic, tele-oncology services were completely integrated into the standard of care for cancer patients worldwide. While this form of care continues to serve patients, who are immunocompromised and facing lockdown circumstances, there are many drawbacks and areas of improvement that still must be addressed, Bader added.

An example of areas that were lost and are now in need of improvement is time. Patients lost time, which is critical in cancer care. Any delay or setback can be life-changing. Cancer patients struggled to receive timely treatment due to surgery and procedure cancellations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Delayed testing meant delayed diagnosis and an increase in the number of patients with later stage, advanced cancer.

In addition to time, collaboration, was also missing during the pandemic. Even prior to COVID, many patients felt they were not as involved in their treatment decisions as they’d like to be, Bader said.

“Today, any increase in collaboration has been patient-driven and this trend will continue,” she said. “The lack of collaboration is a direct reflection on our healthcare system, specifically the established role of the doctor as decision-maker and final say. When you think about the care model, decisions made in a silo can actually be a disservice to the patient. Limited physician bandwidth means limited knowledge about new treatments. Wide-open access to new tools and technologies coupled with the patients’ willingness to research, creates a new source of knowledge.”

“Deeper collaboration is becoming more acceptable as many physicians are embracing the shift and even encourage their patients to share their findings. This partnership approach to care will help to improve patient outcomes,”

Although there were some losses in cancer care for a period of time, there was a positive or a “gain” that came out of the situation. As the quality of care decreased during the pandemic, patient motivation to participate in decisions about their treatment increased. Patients have become stronger advocates for themselves which in turn, has helped improve the quality of care, Bader said.

For example, one-third (33%) of respondents said telemedicine has actually decreased their level of care in their minds, indicating that, despite its convenience during COVID-19, telemedicine has not enabled some patients to establish an adequate level of trust or connection with their physicians using this platform.

However, there is plenty of room and opportunity for patient control in cancer care. Excessive amounts of time and the increased use of telemedicine during the pandemic created the perfect environment for open-communication between a patient and their physician. This new level of accessibility to trusted medical information has opened a lot of doors for patients in knowing what options they have from clinical trials to treatment in particular.

Bader confirms patients can confidently participate in treatment planning only when armed with trusted information.

“Making an informed decision means knowing all your options,” she said. “It is no longer safe to assume that your doctor is fully aware of every treatment option. They will even be the first to admit that limited bandwidth and a dynamic research landscape make it near-impossible to know it all. Many doctors even encourage their patients to research and share their findings. These are the circumstances that are increasing patient involvement in treatment decisions.”

According the the TrialJectory survey, it was found nearly all (93%) cancer patients participants would be willing to participate in a clinical trial now, compared to pre-COVID-19. It was also found that over half (54%) of respondents said they have been independently searching more for treatment options outside of their physician’s guidance.

“TrialJectory believes and supports the notion that increased patient engagement is becoming a permanent part of the cancer treatment process and will ultimately result in better outcomes,” Bader added. “(We’re) committed to arming patients with access to knowledge and empowering them to control their cancer journey. To challenge the status quo and truly fix what’s wrong with our healthcare system, we need to change the dynamic of the doctor-hospital-patient relationship. At its core, cancer treatment should be solely focused on the needs of patients; therefore, we need to hear their voices and understand their concerns.”