Dec 6, 2016
When the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network conducted a national survey a few years ago, it found that less than a third of patients were asked about quality of life concerns during treatment decisions. Similarly, 42 percent of respondents reported a lack of focus by healthcare providers on emotional concerns such as stress, depression and anxiety.
Across our nation’s healthcare system, there’s an inherent emphasis on the quantitative nature of treating patients. From the research laboratory to the doctor’s office to formulary committee hearings and throughout the halls of government, key decisions are often made with data, process and precedent in mind.
Without question, this has improved many aspects of the system over time. However, we risk the unintended consequence of underemphasizing qualitative aspects of care. Key questions such as, “What does the patient value?” and “What is most important as he/she is considering care options?” can be overlooked. For most patients, these questions are not only critical on a personal level, but they’re necessary for achieving a positive health outcome.
Recently, I wrote about the promise of medical invention and how we’re on the cusp of breakthroughs that will change how we view and treat disease. In many cases, pharmaceutical companies are extending lives by years or decades through innovative medicines that were either aspirational or conceptual just a decade ago. The power of medicine has never been more real, consequential or life-changing.
At the same time, there can be an unintended downside to this progress. When we start talking about major breakthroughs and cures, we risk losing sight of one of the greatest advantages provided by modern medicine and caregiving: the ability to improve a patient’s quality of life.
For patients with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration and countless other conditions, improved quality of life – often made possible through incremental invention and discovery – is the number one priority in a treatment decision. In many cases, it’s more important than a potential breakthrough or cure.
Our industry has a responsibility to go beyond the treatments we invent and identify ways to support patients throughout the continuum of care. From the time of diagnosis, every patient’s experience is a highly personal and uncertain journey, filled with ups, downs, questions and tough decisions. We’ll all be patients at some point in our lives – and we’re long overdue to have a system in place, guided by new ideas and innovations that help keep us healthy, first and foremost.
In April, Astellas went directly to the source. We launched the C3 Prize, a global challenge to healthcare innovators to submit their non-medicine ideas and to help improve the cancer care experience for patients and caregivers. The winning entry, the founder of Belgium-based company Oncomfort™, helps cancer patients manage anxiety before, during and after treatment regimens. Among the more than 100 entries submitted by patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and technology entrepreneurs from around the world, many brought forth promising ideas aimed at addressing access and improved quality of life issues.
In August, we partnered with the World Transplant Games Federation (WTGF) to launch Fit for Life!, an initiative that aims to keep transplant recipients healthy and active through participation in organized sports. Just last month, Astellas and Donate Life America registered thousands of organ donors and tripled the existing GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS title for online organ donor registrations in an eight-hour period.
In the words of one of our ambassadors, Franz Sanz, “I want to be an inspiration through sports to the patients that are waiting for a transplant, and show to them the extraordinary life ahead.”
This brings me back to my point that healthcare is a highly personal journey. While innovative medicines are changing how we treat patients, they’re one of many tools in our collective arsenal against disease. Combining medicines with an ongoing commitment to meet the needs of the patient throughout the continuum of care is essential to saving and extending lives. In an era of dramatic medical invention, it’s an opportunity to re-imagine the patient experience and, above all, make it better. Let’s build on it together.