BC Cancer patients living on Vancouver Island who are receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy for head and neck or lung cancer are now able to be monitored at home in a first-of-its-kind project.
The project, which is the first in a series of remote patient monitoring initiatives supported by the Office of Virtual Health, is designed to keep BC Cancer patients as healthy as possible from home. Following their treatments, patients will monitor their symptoms at home using a virtual tool that will assess their temperature, heart rate, weight and common side effects for approximately 12-14 weeks following treatment.
“We know that as our population ages, the incidence of cancer will continue to grow. BC Cancer is using innovative virtual health programs to help meet the demand amidst new health concerns,” says Dr. Elaine Wai, project co-lead and radiation oncologist at BC Cancer. “Having continuous information on patient health allows for treatment plans to be quickly adjusted if needed and to provide timely access to additional health services like nutritional assessments, pain and symptom management, or counselling services. The ultimate goal is to keep patients healthy and reduce emergency visits.”
Dr Elaine Wai, BC Cancer
These at-home assessments will be regularly monitored by BC Cancer physicians and nurses and can provide important information to guide health care workers when patients need further intervention, possibly before patients even know to reach out for help.
“Patients rely on oncology nurses to assist them with managing their symptoms at the centres and via telephone. Home health monitoring enables nurses to triage and address symptoms earlier through alerts built within the system,” says Theressa Zapach, project co-lead and senior practice lead, nursing, BC Cancer. “Health care providers now have the ability to track and trend individual patient symptoms and vital signs over time to assess for a decline or improvement in the patient’s overall health status throughout treatment and beyond.”
The two way communication not only helps health care providers, but there are benefits for patients who may be feeling isolated.
“When you have cancer, it can feel like your health is out of your control,” says J.H., a BC Cancer patient and one of the first to use the remote patient monitoring tool. “I use the daily symptom tracker first thing in the morning and I find it a valuable touchstone to connect with my medical team. It provides me with a personal level of care and the tool even asks me if I’d like to receive a call from my BC Cancer care team. When I do get a call from them, it’s like they know me. I don’t have to tell them how I’m feeling – they know because they’ve been checking in on me every day.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in health care requiring the use of more virtual health options to keep citizens at home and out of hospital. BC Cancer is well positioned to be the first program to implement remote patient monitoring to meet the at-home needs of its patient population and improve care between in-person appointments.