Cancer is an extremely complex disease. An anonymous 19th-century surgeon said well by describing cancer as “the emperor of all maladies”. It affects all ages and people groups, produces few specific symptoms, and has been found in nearly every part of the body. Perhaps it’s no wonder that a definite cancer treatment is considered one of the holy grails of medicine.
According to research from Philips’ 2016 Future Health Index, only around one-third of oncologists and oncology patients think connected care is currently being used in home care. But, it’s been known for many years that there are benefits to home-based oncology care. A 1989 study suggested that home care could reduce symptom distress, enforced social dependency, and health perceptions, likely due to home care nurses being able to anticipate distress from symptoms and allow cancer patients to better maintain their independence.
While it is true that cancer patients cannot yet take home a connected care device that directly treats their cancer, or monitors the progress of their disease, connected health technology already exists to help them stay informed and manage some of the side effects that cancer and cancer treatments can cause from home.
The Oncologist Hotline
What many physicians and patients don’t realize is that if you own a smartphone, you already hold in your hand (or pocket) a sophisticated medical gadget!
Aside from being a perfectly capable phone to contact a doctor anywhere, smartphone technology has reached a point where cameras are powerful enough to capture medical-grade images and conduct video consultations. The increasing adoption of smartphones, both by patients and physicians, has great potential in teleoncology and telemedicine as a whole by allowing doctors to improve both the range and quality of care offered to patients. In North Queensland, Australia, for example, telemedicine has allowed cancer patients living rural parts of the state to receive numerous oncology services, including urgent consultations, treatment plans, and chemotherapy drugs without having to travel great distances.
Moreover, cancer patients can quickly research information about their diagnosis online. Smartphone apps allow users to store their health data and track everything from nutrition to stress levels. Cancer.net Mobile, published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, is one such app specially focused on cancer. The app provides one-touch access to information on over 120 types of cancer. It also helps track symptoms and medication and lets you write questions and record answers from healthcare professionals, other cancer patients and survivors, or someone in a support/caregiver network.
Improving Quality of Life
Cancer and cancer treatments can cause a variety of side effects. Thankfully, many of these side effects are not only common to all people, but many can be managed with popular health and fitness focused devices. Weight fluctuation, for example, can be monitored with Wi-Fi enabled scales, such as Withings’ Body scales. A sleep tracker, such as the Beddit, can help pinpoint factors that cause sleep problems and fatigue. A developing fever can be watched carefully with continuous temperature monitoring patches, such as Fever Smart’s thermometer patch or VivaLnk’s FeverScout. And since many oncologists encourage patients to stay as physically active as possible, a wearable fitness tracker with heart rate monitoring will help ensure that cancer patients receive the health benefits of exercise.
Another common side effect of cancer is pain. Unfortunately, pain is also one of the more difficult symptoms to manage, as it manifests itself in many ways. One device that has shown much promise in relieving chronic pain is called Quell. FDA-approved and similar to TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) therapy, Quell works by stimulating sensory nerves in the upper calf where the device is worn. The sensory nerves carry neural pulses to pain centers in the brain which trigger a natural response that blocks pain signals in the body. Quell is also a drug-free therapeutic device that can be used during sleep, and the accompanying mobile app allows you to adjust the device’s settings and track your sleep, activity, and pain levels.
Remembering Your Meds
When it comes to actually treating cancer with drugs like oral chemotherapy, its effectiveness is linked to the patient’s adherence to the medication. One company, AdhereTech, has developed a pill bottle equipped with a cellular antenna to track medication usage. Designed specifically for expensive specialty drugs like cancer medication, the AdhereTech bottle works anywhere in the world with pills or liquid medicine and can track when, and if, a patient has opened the bottle to take their medication. For patients, the bottle will light up and chime, and the patient will get a notification, text message, or phone call if they miss a dose. For doctors, AdhereTech’s platform allows them to track adherence data that might provide insight into a cancer drug’s effectiveness. It’s an unobtrusive way to give patients the best possible outcome when using drug intervention.
With a technology-focused, double-headed approach to battling cancer, patients may more increasingly overcome. New therapies and treatments could lead to remission and complete elimination. And with symptom management through connected care devices, patients will be empowered to dominate their disease by living far more comfortable lives and perhaps even thrive.