As many organizations and advocacy groups work to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research this month, we’re inspired to consider new and better ways of supporting patients living with cancer.  Better support starts from an understanding of the patient experience and personal needs that may arise from the disease or diagnosis.

Cancer is Personal

A new diagnosis is a personal experience for patients and their caregivers.  Even patients with the same type of cancer may embark on different journeys – affected by their choices in treatment, care, and how a tumor responds. And with the advent of personalized medicine, patient treatment experiences are becoming even more individualized and distinct from one another.  

Individual differences don’t stop at biological markers. Cancer’s impact on a patient may also vary significantly. Each journey has its own rhythm, defined by the patient undergoing treatment. And every patient starts their journey with a personal set of beliefs or needs that can impact health behaviors, such as taking medication as prescribed.  And it’s here that patient support can be truly innovative.

Adherence Challenges in Cancer Care

In order to provide each patient with the support they need to manage their journey, we must start with an understanding of the beliefs driving behavior, especially when it comes to treatment adherence.  

Surprisingly, adherence rates for oral cancer therapies vary widely from 46% to 100%1.  Reasons for non-adherence vary, and are closely linked to individual perceptions of the condition and treatment. Patient behaviors may stem from:

 Uncertainty that the medicine is actually helping

 Discomfort with the reminder of their diagnosis with every dose or infusion

 Lack of social support to understand how to manage work and family life alongside their treatment

 Fear of, or experience with, side effects

 Distrust of the medical system or poor communication with their HCP

Matching content and communications to the needs of each patient is important. A patient support program that educates around how a medication works may not be relevant or effective for patients concerned about costs, or who need emotional support.

Understanding the Why

Health psychology offers a framework for effective patient support interventions– true personalization. Led by a global team of health psychology specialists, we conduct research to identify what patient beliefs correlate with non-adherence, and what behavior change techniques will be most effective in overcoming those beliefs. Our screening process at program enrollment uses each patient’s input to match them with interventions that address their specific concerns. By providing more relevant messages, we keep patients engaged and adherent.

A recent program we designed for hematology patients demonstrates the impact of personalized interventions. Our research identified a range of individual patient concerns, including understanding the need for treatment, help with managing a complex regimen, and increased social support. Communication messages and nurse interactions were designed with these factors in mind. The program generates positive patient and HCP feedback, and has been shown to extend duration of therapy compared to patients not enrolled in the program.

In the end, personalized support is about listening to individual concerns, delivering tailored content and, ultimately, empowering individuals to better self-manage their journey. That’s the kind of innovation we believe is needed to improve treatment experiences for cancer patients, and for patients affected by other serious conditions.

  1. The Oncologist March 2016 vol. 21 no. 3 354-376