Project Lead, Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, World Economic Forum
We must leverage the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to improve lung-cancer care with technology.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, those who treat lung cancer– the largest cause of cancer deaths worldwide – found ways to improve care through innovation and new technology.
According to a report from the World Economic Forum, in partnership with the Lung Ambition Alliance, there’s reason to be optimistic that technology can continue to improve resilience in lung-cancer services in three main ways.
1. Patient engagement and monitoring
The rapid adoption of digital tools helped overcome pandemic-related barriers to patient engagement and monitoring. Spain saw a three-fold increase in follow-up telephone consultations compared to 2019, while in the UK, the use of telemedicine for general medical consultations rose to approximately 75% during the pandemic, compared to 10% prior.
Continued use of digital tools will help maintain accessibility for patients who live far away from their treatment centre, are very unwell or are at high risk of infection. These tools offer a beneficial addition to face-to-face appointments, which will remain a critical part of the care pathway, particularly for initial consultations.
2. Screening and early diagnosis
Early detection of lung cancer is strongly linked to outcomes, yet COVID-19 disrupted scans and tissue biopsies due to resource constraints and safety concerns.
In response, The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research, London launched a liquid biopsy study to detect cancer from a blood sample. In Moscow, researchers are using an AI platform to retrospectively review CT scans conducted for COVID-19 diagnosis, which has led to the detection of incidental lung nodules indicative of lung cancer not previously diagnosed.
Continued use of digital tools will help maintain accessibility for patients who live far away from their treatment centre, are very unwell or are at high risk of infection.
3. Improved clinical trials
A recent JAMA Network study found a 60% decrease in new oncology clinical trials during the pandemic Yet, trial processes are adapting. Telehealth, remote monitoring and decentralized care delivery is more convenient for participants, supporting trial recruitment and retention, and flexible trial protocols could improve efficiency and reduce costs.
A survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology showed 90.3% of respondents identified telehealth visits a potential improvement to conducting clinical trials and 77.4% believed remote patient review of symptoms held similar potential.
Improving lung cancer outcomes
These examples suggest the incredible opportunity to revise health services after the pandemic. At the same time, we must ensure modernized data policy and regulation, increased interoperability and data access among institutions, and investment in development and deployment. Fostering technological advancement not only offers the opportunity to improve lung cancer outcomes, it can also strengthen healthcare systems against future shocks.