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Cancer care goes virtual in first-of-its-kind project

Cancer care on Vancouver Island is going virtual.

Patients receiving both chemotherapy and radiation therapy for head and neck, or lung cancer are now able to be monitored at home in a first-of-its-kind project.

Remote patient monitoring is designed to keep those with significant health challenges as healthy as possible at home.

Dr. Elaine Wai, the project co-lead and radiation oncologist at BC Cancer, says the idea started taking shape during the early days of the pandemic.

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“When COVID started we really had to pivot and try to, like everyone else, deliver care in a different way,” she said. “So we really took the spring and summer to put some really thoughtful work into developing this tool.”

Following their cancer treatments, patients will monitor their symptoms at home every day using a virtual tool that will assess temperature, heart rate, weight and physical activity, along with common symptoms of side effects that may relate to their treatment. 

These at home assessments will be regularly monitored by BC Cancer physicians and nurses and can provide important information to guide health care workers when patients need further intervention, possibly before patients even know to reach out for help.

“That allows us to keep a close eye on patients while they are at home and can help us provide better support, and help head off any big problems before they occur,” Wai explained. “The tool also provides information to patients at the time when they are experiencing their symptoms.”

Health minister Adrian Dix says managing a pandemic has forced the health system to make some swift and necessary changes.

“We’re very fortunate that we are well-supported through innovations with partners like BC Cancer and the Office of Virtual Health, to help make incredibly important treatments, like chemotherapy, continue and able to be monitored remotely,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Launched in early October, the project is the first in a series of remote patient monitoring initiatives.

It’s a collaboration between BC Cancer and the Office of Virtual Health, both at the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). 

“We know that as our population ages, the incidence of cancer will continue to grow. BC Cancer is using innovative virtual health programs to safely meet the demand and deliver high quality care amidst new health concerns,” Dr. Wai said. 

“Having continuous information on patient health allows for treatment plans to be quickly adjusted if needed and to provide timely access to additional health services like nutritional assessments, pain and symptom management, or counselling services. Our goal is to keep patients healthy and reduce emergency visits and/or admissions.”

The ability to monitor patients remotely for several weeks following radiation and chemotherapy treatment will help patients stay connected to their care team.

“When you have cancer, it can feel like your health is out of your control,” says J.H., a BC Cancer patient and one of the first to use remote patient monitoring. 

“I use the daily symptom tracker first thing in the morning and I find it a valuable touchstone to connect with my medical team. It provides me with a personal level of care and the tool even asks me if I’d like to receive a call from my BC Cancer care team. When I do get a call from them, it’s like they know me. I don’t have to tell them how I’m feeling – they know because they’ve been checking in on me every day.”

Dr. Wai said the tool makes a big difference in patients’ overall mental health.

“We have had a patient go through with the questionnaire and he found it very useful. “It’s very helpful to know that the staff at the cancer clinic is checking on him on a daily basis and in fact they’ve been able to help him address the symptoms and had him come in early, and helped prevent him from going into hospital at a later date.”

Quick facts:

  • This is the first project of remote patient monitoring for patients with cancer in B.C.
  • The program is currently available for patients receiving curative chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the same time for head and neck or lung cancer at BC Cancer–Victoria.
  • Participants will be provided a tablet, thermometer, weight scale, pedometer and oxygen monitor for approximately 12-14 weeks.
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