Care for chronic conditions has been severely disrupted amid the Covid-19 pandemic. To prevent further disruption, providers are increasingly partnering with IT companies.
Their goal? To enhance care for cancer patients.
Current Health provides a wearable device to patients, which continuously monitors their vital signs, said Chris McCann, co-founder and CEO of Current Health, in a phone interview. The data is then transmitted back to the patient’s care facility. The solution alerts clinicians if the data indicate any abnormalities or potential care issues. At this point, the clinician decides whether the issue can be managed remotely or if the patient needs to be brought into the hospital.
Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, cancer screenings and treatment dropped drastically, which could lead to an increase in patient death rates, researchers warned.
A study published last year in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics shows that at the peak of the pandemic in April 2020, screenings for breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer decreased significantly as compared to the same period the year prior. In addition, the number of mastectomies performed reduced consistently from April through July of last year, and colectomies similarly reduced between April and May.
“These problems, if unmitigated, will increase cancer morbidity and mortality for years to come,” the researchers wrote.
For Mount Sinai Health System, the drops in patient volume were striking. In April of last year, New York City was the global epicenter of the pandemic, and Mount Sinai, like other hospitals in the region, had to suspend elective procedures. The health system experienced a 25% decrease in volume in its ambulatory as well as inpatient settings in April, said Dr. Cardinale Smith, chief quality officer for cancer services at Mount Sinai, in a phone interview.
Even now, patient volume is 10% lower than what it was during the same time period last year, “which indicates to us that there are people who are likely staying closer to home to receive treatment,” she said.
This reluctance on the part of patients — to either risk coming into a health facility or traveling to a facility further away from them — was one of the reasons Mount Sinai looked into remote patient monitoring solutions for oncology.
The system decided to deploy Current Health’s solution, funding the implementation through a Federal Communications Commission grant. The rollout is currently in the pilot phase.
“What I’m hoping that we will see is that this gives us another way to monitor our patients and be able…to get them into a higher level of care when needed, and otherwise be able to really treat them in place so that they feel both safe and comfortable,” Smith said. “And also, so that we don’t overwhelm a healthcare system that is already being overwhelmed.”
Another reason for implementing the remote monitoring system was the growing digital divide among patients.
Mount Sinai clinicians saw that some of their patients, including people of color and the elderly, were less likely to use telehealth services, said Smith.
Smith hopes that the solution will help them care for those patients since Current Health provides the wearable devices and tablets that the patients need. The patients are trained on the devices, which are easy to use — even for the less-than-savvy tech user, Smith said.
Similarly, the health system educated and trained their clinicians on the new solution. As it is a novel mode of cancer care delivery, they needed to make sure they answered all their clinicians’ questions and concerns, she said.
The demand for remote monitoring solutions has exploded during the pandemic. Current Health, which received Food and Drug Administration clearance for its solution at the end of 2019, soon saw an explosion in demand, McCann said. The company experienced a 400% expansion of its customer base. This includes the addition of hospital customers like Mount Sinai Health System and Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital.
“What [remote patient monitoring] does is it expands the criteria of patients who can actually be managed at home versus within a hospital and that has been a huge asset to us as a company — particularly in the [current] moment,” McCann said.
Photo: chombosan, Getty Images