Since we have started the conversation about eHealth tools in my previous blog this week, I thought it might be worthwhile to explore some of the other applications and internet based programs that may be useful to cancer patients.
As I wrote in early February, I have become (and remain) infatuated with apps that have helped me track my activity and my diet. They have made a big difference for me and others I know, and continue to keep me motivated and on target. The larger question, however, is whether we can harness electronic media to help us live healthier lives, get better control of our health, or if we have an illness or disease, become more informed and more empowered.
For some diseases-like heart disease and diabetes-there appear to be no shortage of such efforts either to prevent illness or help manage illness once it occurs. However cancer is a different animal: it is not one disease but over 200. And it is far from uniform, even within particular cancer diagnoses. We have a lot to learn about cancer, its treatment, helping care givers and improving quality of life for cancer patients among many other topics. But actually harnessing social media and the internet to help our patients remains in very early stages of development for cancer compared to some other more common and perhaps more straightforward situations such as heart disease and diabetes.
So imagine a world where a patient has access to immediate information about their disease, its treatment, the side effects of the drugs, and how they can better manage the inevitable problems that arise during the diagnosis, treatment and recovery from cancer treatment. And further imagine harnessing that information to learn more about the disease and the treatments, the patients' reactions to the drug and the illness, how to connect caregivers, and then uploading that information in a useful digest so health care professionals can spot progress or problems, and help their patients in a more effective manner than is available through a short visit to the office.
That is the type of future we should all hope for. But we are not there yet, and we have a long way to go. The American Cancer Society is proud of its electronic health media offerings, which include our web information at www.cancer.org, our Cancer Survivors Network which links survivors from across the country to help guide each other with information and support, our "WhatNext" service which matches patients with other patients who have similar situations and demographics to learn more about their illness and treatment, and validate their own experiences with their cancer, and finally (and not least) our Circle of Sharing where patients can enter their information about their illness, let friends know how they are doing, and otherwise participate in their process of care.
All of those are good and worthy efforts. But what else is available and where can you get information? And more important, what is the current status of eHealth in cancer care, especially compared to other diseases?
Some answers to both questions were recently provided by an organization called e Health Initiative, or more fondly eHI. eHI is a collaboration among committed stakeholders from industry and non-profit sectors which brings together hundreds of organizations who are interested in promoting eHealth and making it a feasible and effective part of our health care in this country. (I have a special place in my heart for eHI, since the American Cancer Society has been involved with them for a number of years and I currently serve on their Leadership Council and board of directors).
The reports I referred to above are available on their website, and include one review of currently available eHealth programs from a variety of sources around the country. The second report was commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation to address the availability and utilization of mobile health applications by underserved populations being treated for cancer, but in fact serves as a guide to the current status of mobile health in the larger context of cancer care. More...