The Promise of Digital Technology: Cancer Care in the 21st Century
July 26, 2017 | by City of Hope
Smartphones and digital technology have become essential tools in our personal and professional lives. So it’s a natural next step that these technologies are being used to improve health care, too.
Mina S. Sedrak, M.D., M.S., an oncologist in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope, shared his high-tech vision for the future of cancer care.
New communication landscape
It’s clear that our communication landscape has shifted in the last decade. From the evolution of email and listservs to blogs and social networking sites, modern society has embraced a digital, connected way of life.
“The rapid pace of new electronic and mobile health technologies has opened up enormous opportunities for participative communication,” said Sedrak – “a type of communication that enables users to interact, create, write and exchange information with each other.” Unlike traditional modes of communication such as radio or print media that provide one-way transfer of knowledge, these new tools offer the opportunity to connect with larger audience and allow them to generate, share and discuss ideas and content in unprecedented ways.
Sixty-nine percent of American adults report using some type of social media site today, which is up from 5 percent in 2005. “Cancer patients and their loved ones are increasingly using social media to interact with each other and with oncology professionals, form communities, and receive and obtain credible information about their health or that of their loved ones,” Sedrak said.
“But how the public communicates about a complex topic such as cancer on sites like Twitter or Facebook remains unclear, and whether there is value or direct application from these new modes of communication to influence the public’s knowledge, health behaviors and outcomes is unknown.”
Social networks and clinical trials
How could a smartphone improve cancer care? Sedrak pointed to clinical trials as one great example. Clinical trials are essential for testing new cancer therapies, turning scientific discoveries into new and better treatments.
“Only 3 or 4 percent of adult cancer patients participate annually in therapeutic clinical trials,” Sedrak said. However, studies show that when the public is better educated about a medical condition, patients are more likely to enroll in clinical trials.
Sedrak hopes to learn more about how people share information related to cancers and clinical trials on sites like Twitter. Then health care organizations and health advocacy groups can craft their messages to deliver accurate information to people who could benefit, he added.
Sedrak also sees promise for tech devices you can wear. There’s been a surge in popularity of wearable health tracking devices, such as bracelets or watches that monitor a person’s activity levels or record stats such as heart rate and sleep habits.
If doctors and health researchers could tap into that data, he said, it would give them a new view into what patients do outside the doctor’s office.
“Imagine if I can gather the number of steps that a patient walks to understand her functional performance status, or her heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels.… How much more of that information could be valuable in understanding her disease, her response to treatment, and could those data points help improve the care I can provide her?” Sedrak said.
While there are still questions how best to use these technologies to improve cancer care, Sedrak said he’s excited about the possibilities.
“We hope that our research insights would allow us to design targeted interventions that use technology, such as digital electronics and social media, to promote better cancer care for our patients, both at City of Hope and across the country,” he said.
To read more about Sedrak's groundbreaking research, click here, here and here.
Sedrak’s research in using social media platforms such as Twitter to deliver information about cancer and to improve clinical trial participation is supported by the Phase One Foundation.
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