Chief Product Officer at Digital Reasoning, creating the future of human-computer interaction.
As businesses and health care organizations reopen and adjust operations to prevent Covid-19 infections in their workforce, another threat looms out of sight: cancer.
During the past few months, the shutdown resulted in a massive wave of canceled and delayed cancer care, which many hospitals classify as an “elective procedure.” We’re beginning to learn what every cancer patient and their family members know all too well — cancer is not an “elective.” Simply put, cancer can’t wait.
According to an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) survey, 50% of cancer patients experienced a disruption to their treatment and half of those experienced a substantial delay. At the same time, cancer screenings came to a halt, resulting in an estimated 80,000 missed cancer diagnoses according to the IQVIA Institute. When it comes to cancer, every day matters. A one-week delay in time-to-treatment increases absolute risk of mortality by 1.2% to 3.2%, according to a recent study.
Based on this data, our nation faces a second pandemic of cancer deaths, potentially in excess of 50,000 additional, unnecessary deaths — a conservative estimate, according to our research. Beyond deaths, if nothing is done, our research indicates that a total of approximately 750,000 cancer patients will face some disruption in their treatments, bringing extended physical and emotional suffering.
What can the health care and business world do to stop this from happening?
We need to make up lost ground by getting all of those patients into screenings and procedures for detecting and treating cancer as quickly and safely as possible.
First, businesses need to encourage their workforce to proactively reschedule and seek the appropriate screenings and treatments that were canceled or postponed. Responsible leadership begins with ensuring the health and well-being of the entire team.
Second, health care providers face a challenge to meet this influx and speed diagnosis and treatment while protecting patients from Covid-19. Given health care’s limited physical and workforce capacity, the prospects may seem grim.
Many hospitals and cancer centers are now using artificial intelligence (AI) diagnostics and workflow technology to address this problem and get vulnerable cancer patients into protocols that enable them to be identified, treated and protected from the virus in real time.
AI is ubiquitous in the world around us. The average person may interact with 50 to 100 machine learning models every day. Yet in health care, AI is still in its infancy. As we saw with the massive adoption of telehealth, AI should be next up for health systems to implement. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s now a matter of necessity.
Health care’s challenge will always be to raise the standard of care while lowering costs. Through the use of artificial intelligence technology that amplifies capacity, this new challenge in cancer care can be met, especially as hospitals cope with budget cuts and overworked employees.
As many cities and states begin to reopen and think about what’s next, it’s critical to ensure that our hospitals have the tools and technology to protect people from Covid-19 while ensuring safe, effective cancer care for our communities.