How advanced informatics is a key to revolutionizing oncology care

Cutting-edge software tools have the potential to transform cancer treatment, patient engagement and clinical decision-making.

Oncology care teams were among the first in the healthcare industry to incorporate early clinical informatics tools, such as electronic medical records. In recent years, there has been an explosion of medical data and applications that build on these early innovations to better serve clinicians and patients.

Today’s independent software vendors in healthcare are turning technology trends into powerful informatics tools, paving the way for continued advancements in cancer care through precision analytics.

Open access

A prevailing challenge in cancer care informatics is connecting disparate systems that contain siloed information. Every vendor stores their collection of patient data in their database, and more often than not, this data is inaccessible to clinicians and patients, leading to delays and gaps in care. Overcoming this information lockdown requires software vendors to develop more open ecosystems, giving clinicians immediate access to the data that they need to ensure top care options for patients.

Software giants, like Microsoft, model a way to dissolve silos of information through applications like Teams and Office. With these tools, users are often unaware of the number of databases running in the background. Cloud-based and well-integrated, these platforms offer a seamless user experience.

Expanding clinicians’ ability to access the data they need from a single access point ensures fast, accurate patient treatment and personalized care. I believe that, like Microsoft, modern oncology informatics systems must provide a high level of interoperability to help clinicians balance their top priorities, productivity and patient care.

Trends in software development

The catalyst for ongoing development and incorporation of advanced oncology informatics software stems from two main trends.

The first is a rise in the use of technology designed to support operational decision-making in cancer treatment. A streamlined workflow is essential to boost productivity in a clinic setting. For example, the airline industry uses advanced technology options with built-in optimization to manage demand and supply for flights, travelers and passengers. This enables them to maximize bookings despite tremendous amounts of complicated scheduling, rescheduling, and missed flights.

Today’s oncology informatics software leverages similar technology to enhance day-to-day operations at cancer treatment facilities, maximizing treatments provided and decreasing wait times.

Oncology care centers can have what some administrators call the 10-to-2 problem, where peak appointment times occur from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., creating a bottleneck in patient flow and a strain on staff. If we look at this issue from a supply-and-demand perspective, the demand is patients seeking treatment. A radiation oncology clinic needs to “supply” the linear accelerator, or a medical oncology clinic needs to “supply” the infusion chairs.

Informatics software solves the 10-to-2 problem by telling clinics exactly which patients require appointments, what treatments they are having and even which lab tests are needed before treatment. Clinics can use this data to recommend convenient appointment times for patients, while designing a schedule with less downtime on either side of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The use of patient engagement to improve patient care and timely interventions is another growing trend. Traditionally, patients access their data through a portal, but advanced oncology informatics systems are providing real-time patient monitoring tools, such as symptom-monitoring questionnaires that enable clinicians to provide rapid interventions. This saves patients critical time and unnecessary emergency room or urgent care visits.

In addition to monitoring outcomes, digital patient monitoring tools enable clinicians to deliver care while patients are at home, reducing the need for trips to a clinic. Digital therapeutics systems rely on proactive patient feedback, using their responses to offer helpful options to alleviate reported concerns.

The process begins when patients report issues or symptoms, triggering the digital therapeutics system to support clinical interventions beyond simply sending a directive. These systems provide more tangible responses, including apps, phone consults, medications and other tools to help patients cope with symptoms from home. Patients reporting palpitations, for example, may receive a meditation app or a call from a nurse practitioner to discuss mitigation strategies before their next appointment. This type of software assists clinicians in helping patients cope with symptoms immediately, improving patient satisfaction, engagement and the overall care experience.

Future oncology informatics tools

Maintaining the balance between higher productivity and providing the best personalized cancer care for every patient remains a core focus for oncology informatics developers.

Emerging software will achieve this balance in the long term by coupling patient engagement tools with treatment planning solutions that provide real-world outcome data. This data can be sent directly to treatment clinics, offering valuable insights to inform future care decisions.

Through this convergence of data, cancer care experts continue to learn from past treatments to ensure increasingly safe and effective care for all patients — now and into the future.

Anish Patankar is senior vice president and head of the oncology software solutions business line for Elekta.

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