How futuristic technology is changing the way we monitor people with cancer

Cancer treatments can be incredibly demanding for patients. But as Dr Toby Basey-Fisher, CEO and founder at remote patient monitoring and analytics company Entia explains, new digital technologies are fast changing the landscape of cancer management and making it possible to deliver more effective personalised care for millions of people living with the condition.

It may be commonplace now, but at one time, the glucose meter felt like an unparalleled step into the futuristic world of digital monitoring.

The ability to take glucose readings digitally triggered a move from patients needing to see their nurse or physician to take a face-to-face test (which only provided a momentary snapshot of their health), to arriving at the clinic with weeks’ worth of readings taken at home.

It was a breakthrough moment – the point at which clinicians and patients themselves were able to start identifying changes and tailor interventions accordingly.

Since then, the introduction of digital applications, continuous monitoring solutions and virtual care teams have further advanced remote patient monitoring and are actively changing the lives of millions of people for the better.

The question is, can the same principles that have transformed diabetes care now be applied to the more complex world of oncology?

Remote monitoring in cancer care

Under current treatment models, people with cancer generally attend hospital for pre-treatment assessments, including blood, vitals and symptom assessments, to check they are fit for their next cycle of therapy.

Anyone who has seen a friend or family member go through this knows just how physically and emotionally draining these regular hospital visits can be, particularly at a time when most patients want to conserve energy for the treatment itself. And yet, these investigations are crucial for safely delivering cancer therapy. So, could these pre-treatment assessments be carried out from home instead?

Our remote patient monitoring solution Liberty has been specifically designed to enable this. Alongside vitals and symptoms monitoring, it also includes the world’s first at-home blood count analyser to check for haematological toxicity, one of the most common side effects of cancer therapy. By allowing cancer patients to self-test and self-report in the home, their health status can be assessed without the need for them to wait for a physical appointment slot or travel miles for a treatment assessment. This reduces the costs of travelling to the hospital and taking time off work and gives people as much freedom as possible as they go through their treatment journey. Perhaps most importantly, it gives people with cancer time back to spend as they wish, with family or resting before their next treatment.

To perform a test, the patient simply inserts a single drop of blood, collected by a finger-prick, into the laptop sized device, which uses centrifugation to separate the blood, advanced optics to image the sample and unique software to analyse the cells. The patient’s blood results are then digitally reported via a secure cloud network to a dashboard used by the oncology team. After reviewing the results in conjunction with other parameters, the physician can have a video consultation with the patient to discuss any red flags and mitigating therapy, or if there’s nothing to report, leave the patient free to prepare for their next cycle of therapy. The simplicity of the system also means that patients can be more closely monitored, opening up huge potential in preventative care.

Prevention in practice

Entia’s approach – like many other healthtech innovators we’re proud to call our peers – is designed to provoke a fundamental shift towards a preventative model of healthcare by using technology to identify concerns early on. In the case of oncology, regular data snapshots allow clinicians to respond quickly and efficiently at the first sign of potential side effects, reducing the likelihood of patients’ needing a treatment break or developing serious complications, like neutropenic sepsis.

Remote monitoring services have also been shown to improve healthcare-related quality of life for people with cancer.

Better monitoring unlocks a raft of healthcare benefits

Through these technologies the opportunities to improve cancer care delivery are growing. What’s more, pronounced improvements are being realised in the here-and-now, rather than in some distant healthcare utopia.

Remote patient monitoring, when deployed at scale, can massively reduce the number of in-person appointments, freeing up time for healthcare services and increasing their capacity to treat more patients. Not only that, it streamlines the monitoring process and simplifies care pathways, raising standards across the board. 

Greater care efficiency means reduced costs, allowing care providers to redirect budgets to other areas of need. And early interventions to pre-empt cancer therapy side effects can prevent hospital admissions, another huge cost saver that also delivers a direct improvement in patient outcomes. 

Underpinning all of these benefits is better healthcare data. We expect that the use of AI will have a profound impact here, enhancing our ability to churn through the vast amounts of data we’re generating to identify trends and patterns that will help understand more about when and why side-effects occur and minimise their impact on millions of cancer patients. 

This has to be done privately and securely, of course, but is essential for moving from a reactive health system, treating patients once they become unwell, to a proactive system where we identify concerns early on and treat them before they progress.

A brighter future

Where once, the idea of capturing and transferring biometric data in real-time over the internet seemed like a radical notion, now ongoing digital health monitoring is significantly influencing the development of personalised cancer treatments providing crucial data to determine which therapies might be more effective or more likely to cause toxicity for an individual patient.

It’s remarkable to think that these advances have been realised thanks to access to readily available mobile technologies and imaging capabilities that simply didn’t exist until relatively recently. Perhaps the next evolution is treatment decisions autonomously driven via remote patient monitoring and AI analytics – at this point, the future of oncology will have well and truly arrived.

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.

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