Digital tools offer potential solutions to personalise the patient journey, but more effort is needed to integrate them into current healthcare settings
In the rapidly evolving landscape of cancer care, the development and integration of digital solutions have the potential to revolutionise how patients receive and manage their treatment. However, achieving universal access and ensuring user-friendliness of mobile apps, electronic healthcare records and other platforms will be pivotal to unlocking their full potential and ushering in a new era of patient-centred care.
But are people with cancer really at the centre of this digital evolution of cancer care? As a patient advocate, I believe that digital tools may represent a potential solution to personalise the patient journey and improve the doctor–patient relationship. Initially, it was believed that only younger patients would embrace digital solutions, but today, it has become evident that there is a broader acceptance of these tools among people of all ages (JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018;6:e10026). The widespread use of smartphones capable of hosting these apps provides access for a significant proportion of the population. Moreover, mobile apps can also be adapted for people with visual or hearing impairments. Although many patients still prefer in-person interactions with healthcare professionals, the COVID-19 pandemic showcased the value of digital solutions in managing urgent queries and reducing unnecessary visits. A hybrid approach that combines in-person appointments with digital tools is likely to be the optimal solution, offering flexibility and convenience while preserving the importance of face-to-face visits.
To fully realise the promise of digitalisation, there are challenges that go beyond patients’ willingness to accept change and these still need to be addressed. Since these tools rely heavily on data sharing and cloud storage, internet connectivity remains a significant hurdle, particularly in areas with poor network coverage. Furthermore, a simple, user-friendly interface and minimal complex updates are crucial to foster widespread engagement. To ensure that the unique needs of various user demographics are taken into account, developers must collaborate with patients and caregivers during the early stages of the design process. The overall aim should be to simplify patients’ lives through the creation of genuinely helpful tools without the burden of constant data entry. Effective user training is also essential to optimise tool utilisation by patients and to support healthcare professionals with integration into their current workflow.
Currently, digital tools are not universally accessible and are most commonly used in clinical trials or in conjunction with specific medical devices. Additionally, their global distribution is uneven, with more frequent use in regions such as Europe, USA, China and Australia (Healthcare (Basel). 2021;9:1192). Nonetheless, the potential for digital solutions to have an even greater impact in low and middle-income countries remains significant.
The field of digital solutions is currently undergoing extensive research, especially with advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and related technologies as some research data presented at the ESMO Congress 2023 (Madrid, 20–24 October) show. Collaborating on existing solutions, eventually adapting those from other medical fields to oncology, and sharing knowledge will be essential for progress. But we should not forget to put people with cancer at the centre of this process, as they are the ultimate users of digitalisation.
How does digitalisation help personalised care throughout the patient journey?
Patient Advocacy Session, 22.10.2023, h. 16:30 – 18:00, Cádiz Auditorium – NCC