How Care Has Transformed In 2020
As published in Forbes
BY TLALIT BUSSI TEL-TZURE
We now live in a world where the risk of potential exposure to Covid-19 affects how every health care decision is made. This has huge ramifications for all diseases, but I’ve seen how the pandemic has created frightening circumstances for breast cancer patients in particular.
During October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — I want to share some of my firsthand business insights into the breast cancer field. This is based on my decade’s worth of experience in marketing and business development roles in the health care sector targeting international markets. Specifically, I will focus on how health care facilities and businesses faced with unprecedented challenges have rapidly acted to bring about new — and potentially long-lasting — solutions during the pandemic.
How Covid-19 Affected Breast Cancer Care
The initial Covid-19 pandemic affected nearly every aspect of life for breast cancer patients, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up-care. With the need to limit infection risk and protect patients — especially those with weakened immune systems who are most at risk — many hospitals and health care providers recommended patients stay at home when possible. Hospitals began limiting services to protect people from being exposed and to save resources, such as hospital beds and medical staff, so they could be used to care for seriously ill patients with Covid-19.
Specific closures affected breast cancer patients in particular. In some countries, mammography screening units in practices and hospitals were closed down. World surgical and cancer societies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic endorsed a policy to delay tumor removal surgery for several months for conditions that were not life-threatening. This led to surgical delays, cancellations and backlogs within hospitals. In the U.S., 44% of breast cancer survivors reported delays in care due to Covid-19. It was estimated that almost 40,000 women had a missed diagnosis of breast cancer in the U.S. as a result of canceled breast cancer screenings. In the United Kingdom, research suggested there could be more than 4,700 attributable deaths per year in England due to the three-month delay in tumor removal surgery.
With the success of treatment directly linked to the speed of tumor detection and treatment, these were really worrying signs. Breast cancer patients found themselves in an often frightening position, wondering if it was safe to attend medical appointments or if they should postpone treatments or screening. Other patients had their decision made for them with treatments delayed or changed.
How Breast Cancer Care Is Changing
The initial havoc in the health care system has also brought the potential for improved quality of care for breast cancer patients. After early delays to surgeries, new protocols and processes within health care facilities were quickly introduced. If you have visited a clinic or hospital recently, remarkable changes have been performed in facilities of all types and sizes.
Screening units have been reopened and are now catching up, implementing stricter and safer procedures during a visit. It is now routine to screen for Covid-19 and wear masks during visits. Medical appointments are often conducted virtually by phone or online. Hospitals are adopting new treatment approaches and innovative models of delivery to minimize clinic visits, reduce stays in the hospital, optimize the use of staff resources and free up operating rooms, so they can be used to fight the pandemic.
The Business Opportunity Behind The Pandemic
So how did this happen? As with every challenge, new companies rise up and existing businesses adapt to address unmet needs.
With health care facilities looking to minimize touchpoints to prevent the risk of infection, new models of delivery have been quickly adopted. When we consider the technology development and adoption life cycle, the pandemic has rapidly moved solutions from the innovation or early adoption phase into its next phase. Conventional players are getting pushed out as early adapters rapidly gain market share.
As breast cancer patients sought new ways to make and have medical consultations, telemedicine and online triage solutions rapidly responded to deliver virtual health care and online booking. In the U.S. alone, demand for telehealth is expected to increase by 64.3% in 2020. Management of palliative cancer care is also taking place remotely, like in Spain, where weekly phone calls and remote follow-up have become the norm.
Health care insurers, hospitals and providers are seeking and leveraging artificial intelligence-driven connected medical devices and remote monitoring solutions to provide quality care, while reducing contagion risk for at-risk cancer patients. Faced with delays and backlogs for tumor removal surgeries for mammectomies and lumpectomies, hospitals and clinics are looking for new ways to deliver treatment. For our team at IceCure, this meant we had to quickly enable clinical teams to install a minimally invasive cryoablation solution and provide these teams with remote training, since it was impossible to travel for training as we normally would.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, someone is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes, with one in eight women in the U.S. developing an invasive form at some point in her life. Tumor treatment success depends on the speed we catch and treat breast cancer, so it is imperative that patients keep up with their screenings and medical visits. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s be proud of our accomplishments in the breast cancer space and help raise awareness so patients continue to get the care they need.