How ePRO Solutions Are the Great Equalizer in Access to Healthcare

March 1, 2020

How electronic patient-reported outcome solutions can help democratize access to cancer care and improve experiences for patients and clinic care teams.

For cancer patients living in a rural community, the associated challenges can be amplified. A new report shows that patients in rural America are less likely to survive the disease than those in urban areas. Cancer patients across America already experience terrible symptoms, a mind-numbing number of appointments, medications and instructions they must remember, conflicting sources of information, and communication challenges. This may be “the norm” for all patients, but patients living in rural communities often experience this at an exponential level.

An example of this situation includes a male patient in his 60s that lived in a small rural town in Tennessee and was battling a rare form of lung cancer which required weekly hospital visits for chemotherapy. After a three-hour drive to one of these visits, he arrived 10 minutes late. The doctor had taken the next patient. He waited for several more hours until the doctor was finally able to see him. Once returning home, some unusual new symptoms surfaced, and he wasn’t sure what to do. Should he call the doctor? Drive back? Ignore the symptoms?

Limited access to care is a reality in rural America for many cancer patients. In fact, Tennessee ranks second in the nation for states with the most rural hospital closures. Rural cancer patients typically spend 66% more time traveling to treatment than those who live in more urban areas.

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All these challenges are interconnected and experiencing change today, thanks to the explosion of data and mobile technology in medicine. Electronic Patient-Reported Outcome (ePRO) tools leveraging this new availability of mobile technology can help create a new channel of communication for patients and care providers - improving access to information and healthcare providers, which can make a difference between life and death for a patient.  

We’re in the midst of a technology transition. Sophisticated medical information is no longer limited to the clinic; it’s in the palm of our hands, mobile, and data-powered. ePRO solutions are crossing geographical boundaries and socioeconomic limitations to make cancer care more predictive, proactive, personalized, and preventative. How? By empowering the patient.

ePRO solutions elevate the voice of the patient and empower care teams with real-time patient reported data. It offers clinicians a fuller view of what the patient is experiencing, rather than just what they see (or what the patient remembers) during the appointment. Advanced ePRO solutions can enable  patients to  easily ask questions and discuss symptoms with their care team  during treatment, recovery, and post-treatment.

It’s shaping cancer care for a future that is:

  • Prevalent-No longer are patients bound by their physical location or financial resources. With smartphone and internet access, they can connect to their care team any time, from anywhere. Patients can engage more fully in their own healthcare journey and ensure that care teams have the most up-to-date information. By regularly self-reporting their symptoms and having access to validated education materials and resources, patients are able to share a holistic view of their health.  

  • Predictive-ePRO solutions are built with smart algorithms. As patients report their symptoms, smart algorithms automatically identify acute symptoms to prioritize patients based on symptom severity. It automatically alerts care teams to bring immediate attention to patients with critical symptoms, using patient data to predict and rank which patients are at the highest risk of complications.

  • Proactive-With direct access to medical information and care teams, patients can proactively manage their health by keeping in close contact with the clinic. Not only does this proactive action increase the chances of symptoms being managed before they escalate to critical issues, but it also reduces the workload of the care team. Many phone calls and visits to the clinic are replaced by more efficient patient-to-clinic communication within the ePRO solution. 

  • Personalized-For each patient, some ePRO solutions can be configured with a patient’s treatment and cancer type, presenting information that is most relevant to them. Additionally, various elements may be configured to help fit the unique preferences of its customer clinics. And instead of patients frantically Googling their symptoms and oftentimes being exposed to unreliable news sources, leading ePRO solutions offer easy access to  a wealth of informational material, tailored to the patient’s condition.

  • Preventative-The Journal of Clinical Oncology conducted a randomized controlled trial and found that the use of ePRO solutions can result in 20 percent fewer ER visits and 10 percent fewer hospitalizations. Additionally, a study published by ASCO revealed that systematic remote symptom monitoring through digital PRO tools can increase a patient’s overall survival rate by up to six months.

Rural Tennessee is already seeing these benefits through the utilization of an ePRO solution at Tennessee Oncology. As one of the nation’s largest community-based cancer care groups, Tennessee Oncology treats more cancer patients than any other group in the state, reaching approximately 25,000 patients per year.

Tennessee is a prime example of the need to democratize access with approximately 22% of its residents residing in a rural setting. The ePRO solution has been deployed at all 32 Tennessee Oncology centers across Tennessee. The benefits are proving monumental for rural patients, but also help patients in urban cities where terrible traffic, understaffed hospitals, and monetary constraints can keep them from visiting and communicating with their care teams consistently.

The democratization of access to healthcare has the potential to transform the patient-provider relationship, giving patients a more empowered and prominent role in their health. ePRO solutions can pave a path towards democratization and provide substantial benefits for patients, providers, researchers, and the healthcare system as a whole.

Jani Ahonala is global head of Life Science Solutions at Varian Medical Systems.