Medicine is a constantly evolving science where small changes can have a huge impact on the lives of patients. When it comes to a cancer diagnosis and treatment, every minute counts. According to European Commission estimates, the cancer incidence by 2040 will impact just over three million people a year. By significantly reducing treatment and recovery times with the help of technology, healthcare organizations will be able to provide better and more compassionate care with the resources they have available.
Current cancer care is driven by manual processes from start to finish. Diagnostic tests – including laboratory and biopsies, pathology, and imaging services – are characterized by large volumes of paperwork and data handling. Ensuring each step is meticulously followed without hinderance and accompanied by the relevant information is vital for patient conferences or specialist consultations.
In addition to delivering the best possible care to these patients and ensuring these manual tasks are followed accurately, the same oncology specialists are also developing new molecular diagnosis and innovative therapies shaping future cancer medicine.
By adopting automation, artificial intelligence, and digital workers into the cancer pathway, is technology the right solution to benefit patients, healthcare teams and healthcare organizations?
The pathway process
It’s essential the referral, appointment and diagnostics phases are accurate and prompt, as the earlier the diagnosis, the sooner a treatment plan can be decided and enacted. But indispensable manual tasks like paperwork and manually duplicate data entry to multiple IT systems at this crucial stage could stall the patient’s path to timely care.
To ensure this, multiple clinical and admin staff need to coordinate various aspects of patient care behind the scenes.
To ensure this, Multidisciplinary expert teams of clinicians (MDT) need to decide on clinical care, supported by teams of clerical staff to manage co-ordination and tracking the patient through their pathway. This is done also to help coordinate patient appointments, so records follow the patient at the same time, as well as arranging hospital beds and surgery rooms. Additionally, pharmacies can use this data to track and deliver life-saving medications – some of which have a shelf life of minutes – to patients in a rapid time frame.
But coordinating these tasks is time-consuming and laden with paperwork. The chore falls on overworked healthcare staff and equipment, both of which are already in high demand. To address this, a British healthcare trust in the North-East of England has adopted SS&C Blue Prism automations that are helping contribute to improving the diagnosis processes.
By using IA to collate the FIT data for all patients with suspected colon cancer from their Electronic Patient Record and Cancer Register, the trust now automatically populate the Data Collection Tool spreadsheet for quarterly submission to their Cancer Alliance. Not only has the quality and consistency of patient information has been significantly improved but the automation has saved the Cancer Team 40 hours per month. The cancer trackers now spend less time tracking down data across multiple, disparate system and more time reviewing managing patient pathways and ensuring better patient care.
Additionally, with a skills shortage and budget shortfall, there are also some cost savings for the Trust.
Improving time to diagnosis
Intelligent Automation (IA) can support and streamline the steps at all stages of the cancer pathway, ensuring patients can access their care faster, more accurately and effectively by moving patients through the pathway faster. Digital workers can automate test triaging, ordering and results retrieval and enhance communication and collaboration between departments.
By significantly improving a cancer patient’s time to diagnosis, prognosis, quality of care and treatment, specialists can also follow new research or therapy trials that help every second cancer patient to be cured.
On the clinical side, IA can implement tools such as machine learning (ML) algorithms to in future provide decision support tools to help healthcare providers suggest potential treatment recommendations. Digital workers are accurate and quick and can flag inconsistencies. Performing these types of tasks can release clinical staff and radiologists for higher-value work.
With AI technologies behind intelligent automation continuously evolving, IA will potentially help develop therapies or monitor effectiveness of therapy. It will also aid specialists in predicting therapy efficacy to reduce patient side-effects.
Digital workers increase speed and accuracy
In pathology and imaging services, automations can be used to increase the speed and accuracy of case reviewing and reporting times, so patients and the clinical care team receive a diagnosis sooner. Digital workers can also assist admin teams to automate surgery and treatment scheduling to keep patients on track with timely and relevant therapies that may improve their prognosis.
Future oncology therapies
This move to IA means clinical staff can also focus on the human side of cancer care, as in the future, more oncology therapies will take place on an outpatient setting. The discharge and care phase of a patient’s cancer pathway follows the completion of active cancer treatment and should be done with thorough record of all patient data. It focuses on the transition from hospital or clinic-based care to post-treatment and survivorship care.
In this phase, automation can speed up discharge planning, development of post-treatment care and support scheduling of vital regular follow-up appointments to monitor recovery as well as ongoing screening to detect potential cancer recurrence.
When treatment concludes, it’s vital that healthcare providers keep in contact with the patient to ensure there are no relapses or adverse side-effects. Cancer treatment is often a long and grueling process, both emotionally and physically. Recovering cancer patients require comprehensive support, ongoing monitoring, and survivorship care to ensure long-term care for a healthy and a fulfilling life after cancer. Advanced Virtual Agents, powered by digital workers, can be used to manage communications with the patient, to sign post them to information, manage future appointments or gather patient updates.
Outpatient discharge benefits
The automations continue to seamlessly follow patients after they have been discharged and transitioned into every phase – from diagnosis to recovery – with clinical staff focusing on care over filling out or finding paperwork. Patients are automatically tracked, even after discharge from active cancer treatment.
Offering peace of mind to patients and medics alike, digital workers can automatically update patient records and notify staff and patients when follow-up appointments will occur – on time and without delays. They can also update patient treatment and long-term side effect data.
IA ensures patients aren’t forgotten after they leave and frees some of the manual burden from already overworked clinical staff. Introducing automation into the cancer pathway is beneficial for patients, healthcare staff and the healthcare organization as a whole. Effective communication and timeliness are essential to better patient care, and it all starts with intelligent automation.