Key Takeaways

Before joining Memora Health, I was an inpatient hematology and oncology nurse on a bone marrow and stem cell transplant floor. Patients in our unit would be admitted for anywhere from two to four weeks — sometimes longer. During this time, they received treatment and were closely monitored by a large interdisciplinary care team including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, care coordinators, and patient care assistants.

And then, they were discharged.  

While patients were almost always excited to go home, for many, it was an intimidating prospect. They were in the hospital for weeks for a serious medical intervention. During that time, help was only a quick call away — assistance with symptoms, questions, or simply a word of encouragement. 

Once they left the hospital, they were usually on their own to manage their care. In fact, many patients would half-jokingly ask me to come home with them to be their personal nurse.

Experiences like these highlight the need to invest in more robust remote care assistance for patients navigating complex care journeys, like cancer. Let’s explore some of the challenges oncology patients face post-discharge and how to best help them at this stage of their care journeys.

What are some challenges to helping oncology patients post-discharge?

Cancer care journeys are made up of several different touchpoints, ranging from more infrequent experiences like surgery and procedures to more frequent routines like examinations and taking medications. Regardless of the frequency, each step along patients’ paths presents stressful challenges that can throw anyone with this condition off of their trajectories once they leave the hospital. Some of those barriers include:

1. Understanding and staying compliant with complex cancer treatment plans

Navigating complex treatment plans poses significant challenges for oncology patients, as the intricate nature of addressing cancer often involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapies. This wide array of options — each with its own specific recovery guidelines and prescribed standards of care — can overwhelm patients, making it difficult for them to comprehend and adhere to their prescribed regimens. 

For instance, one study found that 34% of cancer patients didn’t comprehend how advanced their prognoses were. The same research found around a third of cancer patients didn’t fully understand their treatments before initiating therapy. Moreover, the evolving landscape of cancer research frequently introduces new interventions, adding a layer of complexity to reinforcing health literacy and proper decision-making. 

2. Coordinating care between different oncology specialists

Coordinating the efforts of various healthcare specialists represents a formidable challenge for oncology patients undergoing complex treatments. The multidisciplinary nature of cancer care involves collaboration among surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses, and other specialists — each contributing their expertise to the overall treatment plan. Ensuring seamless communication and coordination among these diverse professionals is critical for delivering comprehensive and effective care. 

However, challenges arise due to differences in communication styles, varying treatment philosophies, and the sheer volume of medical information that needs to be shared and synchronized. Timely decision-making and execution become paramount, and any breakdown in coordination can lead to delays, misunderstandings, or suboptimal care. As the demand for personalized and integrated oncology treatments continues to grow, addressing these coordination challenges becomes essential to enhance the overall quality of care and improve outcomes for cancer patients.

3. Understanding cancer care journey-related symptoms and side-effects

Cancer patients often encounter challenges in comprehending common symptoms due to the nuanced nature of the disease. It can manifest with a wide array of symptoms that vary in intensity, duration, and presentation, making it difficult for patients to discern between cancer-related symptoms and those associated with other health issues or  even treatment side effects. One study found that most patients with head and neck cancer had some misconception about their expected symptoms.

The emotional and psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis can also cloud patients' ability to objectively interpret their symptoms. Effective communication between healthcare providers and patients, coupled with accessible educational resources, becomes crucial to empower individuals in recognizing and addressing symptoms promptly, ultimately contributing to better care management and improved overall well-being in all settings.

What is intelligent care enablement and how can digital health support oncology patients after discharge?

Healthcare providers need to look to advanced innovation — that’s also accessible to their patient populations — to help heal these gaps in their oncology care after discharge. However, many solutions available or emerging onto the market bring with them vast data requirements, lack interoperability, and ultimately end up placing more burden on clinicians and their patients.

It isn’t enough to simply adopt and implement a new technology — such as a remote patient monitoring system — and expect issues to resolve themselves. That’s where intelligent care enablement — scalable technology that supports patients and providers through complex clinical episodes — can play a critical role. Some important benefits this innovation offers  include:

1. Reinforcing medication adherence for complex cancer therapies

Among the variables that influence positive health outcomes for cancer patients, medication adherence stands out as one of the most important. 

There are countless studies — such as this one specifically focused on patients with chronic hematologic malignancies — that have discovered associations between medication adherence and better treatment effectiveness, fewer unplanned hospitalizations, lower costs, and more successful care journey results. But it’s not just about treating the immediate condition. Sticking to prescription regimens is also important for cancer patients managing comorbidities like hypertension.

Intelligent care enablement helps patients stay on track by both proactively reaching out to them with reminders and reactively assisting them when they have questions about their prescriptions. Memora Health’s platform specifically communicates with patients using SMS text messaging and engages them using conversational AI — asking them if they’ve missed doses, sending them pre-approved guidelines corresponding to their treatment plans, and responding to their prescription-related questions. Importantly, it collects and organizes all of this information to equip care teams with an accurate view of their patients’ compliance histories so that they can make timely and effective interventions when needed.

Discover how one health system’s oncology department reinforced medication adherence with Memora Health.

2. Supporting oncology symptom self-management

Cancer patients don’t only benefit from receiving treatment. They’re also at an advantage when they can take actionable steps to manage their own care journeys.

Let’s take a look at breast cancer as an example. Patients experiencing this condition and who undergo treatment often experience subsequent side effects that can significantly alter their well-being. One study found that consistent self-management care protocols — particularly related to physical activity — reinforced by care providers helped reduce the severity and duration of these aftereffects. 

That’s not to mention the engagement boost patients experience when they’re more confident in understanding their care journeys — a factor commonly tied to better outcomes. 

But the truth is that people often need extra assistance beyond hospital walls to reinforce self-management plans. Memora’s digital health platform draws on an evidence-based content library to actively educate patients on ideal care guidelines, what to expect after treatments, and steps to take to stay on track (e.g., scheduling follow-up appointments). Additionally, our conversational AI proactively reaches out to cancer patients after procedures to follow up and collect information on their statuses — automatically triaging any concerning feedback to their care team.

3. Equipping oncology care teams with automated digital care management tools

Oncology care providers are committed to helping their patients get on the road to recovery. But the unfortunate truth is that they don’t always have the right tools for supporting the people they treat outside of the hospital. Instead, they’re using time-consuming telephonic outreach — and often unable to get a response on the other end. 

Even if the patient answers the phone, they don’t always have the resources they need to take the right next steps to ensure the best outcomes possible. Cancer patients could benefit from more advanced care support after discharge, while oncology care teams could be more empowered to provide them with better assistance if they had streamlined and effective follow-up processes. 

That’s where Memora Health can play a critical role. Intelligently automating post-discharge follow-up, Memora’s Care Programs not only proactively arm patients with timely information directly via SMS — they also surface resources for patients so that they can fully understand their treatment plans, access the services they need to get to appointments and fill medications, and get their questions answered at the moment they encounter uncertainty.

Healing patients with cancer will always pose complexities for healthcare providers — especially once patients leave the clinical setting. But with the right technology, oncology care teams can begin to simplify and improve the process, giving doctors better insights into their patients’ statuses and patients more confidence in self-managing their care journeys.     

Want to see how Memora’s platform works for oncology programs? Speak with one of our experts today!