Condition and treatment knowledge is vital for ensuring that cancer patients are fully informed about the likely course of their disease and potential therapy options. However, new data shows that awareness of these important topics is lagging among patients with breast, skin, blood, prostate and other cancers.
Results from 825 patients diagnosed with or treated for cancer who were surveyed on Phreesia’s PatientInsights platform in 2022 as they checked in for their doctors’ appointments revealed the extent of this knowledge gap: More than one-third (34%) of cancer patients said they were unaware of how far their cancer had advanced, and the same percentage (34%) said they lacked a clear understanding of their cancer therapy before starting treatment.
Addressing these knowledge gaps will require industry-wide collaboration. Here are three ways to help improve cancer patients’ understanding of their condition, their treatment options and the support resources available to them.
1. Cultivate more informed discussions between healthcare providers (HCPs) and patients
Many cancer patients are unaware of important aspects of their condition and treatment options. For example, only 35% of surveyed patients said they had undergone genetic or biomarker testing for their cancer, and nearly 1 in 4 (24%) were unsure whether they had even received such testing. The remaining 41% of patients said they had not undergone genetic or biomarker testing—a lost opportunity for both them and their HCP to gain insights that could have better informed their care.
Improving patients’ knowledge about their cancer and its treatment starts with properly educating HCPs, says Denise Myers, Vice President, Media, CMI Media Group. “Not only the oncologists, but also the nurse practitioners, physician assistants and staff who meet with patients on a more regular basis [need to be educated], so that they’re equipped with the right tools to have deeper conversations with patients about their type of cancer, treatment options and coping mechanisms,” she says.
It’s equally important to provide patients with relevant educational materials before their appointment to support in-depth patient-provider discussions. For instance, doctor discussion guides delivered at the point of care can help cancer patients organize their thoughts and formulate the questions they want to ask their doctor right before their appointment.
2. Deliver relevant resources to patients where they’re already looking for them
Beyond consulting with their HCPs, many cancer patients also do their own research on their condition. About 7 in 10 (69%) surveyed cancer patients said they leveraged resources other than their provider to learn more about their cancer, citing online search and general and specific cancer websites as their most-used channels. Reaching cancer patients across these platforms is vital for connecting them with the personalized disease education and programs they’re actively seeking.
“While patients value the information they get from their HCPs, they’re also thinking, ‘Ok, I need to be my best advocate. I’ve got to do my own research and come prepared for these conversations with my doctor,’” Myers says.
And because cancer patients are proactive researchers, it’s essential to bring them relevant cancer-related resources and education through multiple touchpoints—from print placements and online content to point-of-care information. Employing a variety of engagements can help ensure that your messages resonate across the board, better empowering patients to participate in their treatment decisions.
3. Leverage advocacy groups to connect patients with support programs
Patient-support programs are vastly underused by cancer patients, despite their proven value in providing education about cancer conditions and treatments, as well as financial assistance. About 4 in 5 (79%) surveyed patients said they had not used patient-support programs while undergoing cancer treatment.
Phreesia survey results indicate that patients who haven’t used patient support programs most want information about their condition or treatment options, which is the same type of education that most patients who have used these programs received support for. Developing partnerships with key advocacy and research groups is a strong way to not only make more cancer patients aware of these offerings but to also ensure relevant programs are offered to patients who need them most. In terms of support offerings, 1 in 4 surveyed patients who haven’t used support programs said they want cancer-focused therapy and self-care (24%) support, and about 1 in 5 want financial assistance (18%).
“There are many different types of cancers, so affiliations between manufacturers and advocacy groups can help connect the dots for all cancer patient audiences by aligning them with the associations that best meet their specific treatment needs and can provide additional tailored research and support,” Myers says.