In the first of two blogs based on the QuintilesIMS oncologist survey 'Exploring Need', we examine how we can help create optimal support for cancer patients.
People diagnosed with cancer, either for the first time or with a disease recurrence, are in a vulnerable place. They need to come to terms with a potentially life-changing or life-limiting illness, and take on board the impact that it may have on their work or education and family. And on top of this, they strive to understand what can be complex and time-consuming treatment regimens with unpleasant and unexpected side effects. Listening to patients, and understanding their opinion on, and expectations of, treatments can provide valuable insight on the support that you should consider providing to oncology physicians.
Dealing with side effects
According to the QuintilesIMS survey, carried out with 98 oncologists during August 2016, over 50% of respondents said that side effects were patients' biggest concerns when starting a new treatment regimen. Around a fifth of oncologists said that patients' biggest concerns were around the impact of the treatment on their work or other activities. With chronic or life-limiting conditions, patients tend to focus on how they feel today rather than details of their survival.
The newer oncology drugs, such as immunotherapies, can have a very different spectrum of side effects to the older small molecule and biologic drugs. Therefore, patients will require support and education to help understand how they and their physicians can manage these.
Regulatory bodies may insist on additional patient education and alerting as part of Risk Management Plan commitments. For example patients prescribed new immunotherapy drugs need to be given a patient alert card, which acts as a risk minimization approach to immune-related adverse reactions (including delayed reactions) and is a condition of the marketing authorization. The card includes space for patient and oncologist contact details and an emergency contact, along with a list of serious side effects that must to be treated without delay. In addition, healthcare professionals will require education about what they need to inform their patients about regarding the treatment and its side effects.
The challenge for biopharma is to include both enough information and provide it at the right level to keep patients informed and safe, without making them worried about choosing or taking their medications. This could be facilitated through patient support programs (PSPs), such as one-on-one nursing support, or nurse-led helplines, where patients can make contact with any concerns, seek reassurance and get the advice they need or be signposted back to their clinical team.
Patients appreciate face-to-face support, particularly in the early days of a cancer diagnosis when they are uncertain about their future and worried about their treatment side effects. This is where PSPs centred around nurse-led support can be vitally important. These support programs can incorporate multi-channel engagement to help extend program reach and effectiveness, such as:
- Digital support – web pages, phone and tablet apps
- Print and hardcopy – information sheets, magazines
- Videos – demonstrations, patient stories
- Support – carers, community groups, patient groups
Because different people learn in different ways, multi-channel patient engagement allows support than can be tailored to individual needs.
Supporting the whole team
When asked about the new oncology drugs, which often have complex diagnostic and treatment regimens, 50% of the oncologists questioned said that education and support for the whole of the oncology team would be the most valuable service for them and their patients. Education across the entire multidisciplinary team about these new and sometimes unfamiliar drugs, from the administrative staff through to the nurses and senior physicians, could help provide better patient support throughout the care pathway, starting from the moment a newly-diagnosed patient steps through the door. It will also mean that any side effects, ranging from annoying to life-threatening, can be dealt with quickly and efficiently, ensuring that patients remain on their medication and gain the best possible outcome.