Cancer Patient Experience in a Digital Age
In This Article
The virtual care ecosystem is large. It's not just telehealth. It's not just wearables. From digital therapeutics or self-care to the in-patient room of the future and chatbots – innovative patient and caregiver experience design is about driving the gathering of information to ensure better outcomes.
WWT Digital recently completed several niche engagements within the cancer research center space. This work provided the opportunity to center patient, caregiver and provider friction as a tool to improve the highly emotional cancer journey. With so many touchpoints where technology can be integrated into an operations roadmap, our goal was to prioritize investment opportunities for our customer partners.
Our approach centers human experience and emotional context in technology decision making. Cancer patients and their caregivers move through healthcare institutions in very different mental and emotional need states than providers and staff, with differing levels of familiarity and context. These perspectives are a major resource and critical to understanding where the biggest opportunities (and dangers) exist for future plans. A few key takeaways:
While the care of cancer patients may differ from other hospitals, the emotions layered into the experiences are very similar. Yes. Every patient's treatment plan is unique, but large parts of their journey are not. The key to journey mapping is quality over quantity, with a specific focus on identifying for each persona where the journeys converge, where they diverge, and why. In our experience working with cancer care providers, their patients and those patients' caregivers, the variables driving the divergences are often-times somewhat counter intuitive.
For example, a starting premise may assume that classifications of illness or treatment plans would warrant multiple patient and caregiver journeys to be mapped. But closer assessment may yield more commonalities than differences- with the real determining factors stemming more from elements of the different patient personas- for example, their family history with cancer or their level of comfort with digital technologies.
The value of a Journey Map is driven by the quality of Personas identified within it. In a qualitative exploration where access to patients/caregivers is often limited due to the delicate nature of their illness, you frequently won't have access to the typical range of population demographics that you'd like to have. When defining your selection criteria for participants- focus more on ensuring representation across identified cultural cohorts, defined based on the variables most relevant to your patient and caregiver's experience within their journeys.
There are certain emotional points in a cancer care journey that transcend treatment-type. Things like parking, wayfinding, and food ordering can be huge sources of patient and caregiver satisfaction (or frustration) and are not unique to, let's say, what type of cancer a person has been diagnosed with. These types of moments tend to be the ones most analogous to the non-medical experiences defining your patient and family caregiver expectations in their roles as "consumers" in other industries.
Add to that the likelihood that these moments are frequently occurring either right before or right after moments of peak stress (heading to or from their consultation or procedure) and these more mundane moments carry the promise of significant impact, for some of the most widely traveled portions of your patients and caregiver journeys.
In dozens of cocreation and innovation research studies nearly all of our participants champion some sort of robot interaction. However, studies show that when face-to-face with these robots, people find them "creepy." Encouraging out of the box thinking in these explorations is essential. In fact, an argument could be made that if robots aren't brought up- you probably aren't doing it right.
But a major factor in most successful explorations like these is the ability to promote truly blue-sky thinking, while regularly recentering the discussion on the ultimate goals of understanding and improving the experience of the patient at the center of the interaction.
So, what does all this mean for hospitals and healthcare organizations seeking to close the gap between the experiences they are offering and the experiences their patients are expecting?
It all comes down to recognizing that patients and family caregivers are also people, and they carry their experiences as people into their expectations for their healthcare. Meeting their expectations was already a challenge and has only become more complex as friction has been removed from their non-healthcare experiences.
The most forward-looking hospitals and healthcare organizations are seeking to catch up to the experiences of other industries when it comes to understanding and transforming their patients and caregiver experiences, but thankfully there are lessons to be learned from across industries, and answers to be found by tapping into your own care teams, patients and caregivers.