Tag Archive for: underserved

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed?

How Can Lung Cancer Disparities Be Addressed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer disparities work against care for some patients, but how can they be addressed? Expert Dr. Christian Rolfo from Mount Sinai explains some disparities in patient populations and how care can be improved for these underrepresented patients. 

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Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So I’d love for you to talk a little bit, Dr. Rolfo, about some of the challenges related to appropriate access to lung cancer care as it relates to different socio-demographic populations, and then how can we begin to address those disparities.

Dr. Christian Rolfo: 

Yeah, this is a topic that is really in my heart because I was coming with you before we start the communication, the recording of this. I was working in Europe before coming to the United States. I was shocked by the disparities that we see in some healthcare situations, so in my position before in Europe, we have a healthcare system that discovering for patients and we have, obviously, difficulties, but here I saw in some communities really under-served in terms of access to different service and healthcare is one of them. 

So we need to be conscious about that when we have patients that are struggling to get transportation, we have patients that are struggling to get approval for some drugs. So, there are a lot of areas that need to be addressed, disparity also in terms of language, we have also patients that are not understanding the doctors, we have patients that are having difficulty when to get to the app information when we are saying, Oh, you can see your report in your app, so it’s not easy for some of them, we have generational gaps as well, these are disparities as well. So taking or being conscious of all these factors is making us take action and how we can take actions in our institutions, and in several institutions in the country, we have the support of an experienced team that is addressing that, and teams are specific that are working for disparities. Some of them are social workers, some of them are advocate patients, so we have a big team of institutions that are helping to the patients to go for different scenarios, and even we have patients that are homeless, so how we treat patients in these conditions when we know that the patient is in a shelter, so if you have toxicity, what will we be doing. So all these things are taken into consideration, believe me, because it is like New York, you have a big disparity of or a big diversity, and we say of populations in one consultation morning, you can see all of them in your waiting room, so we need to try to address all this, and there are politics that are coming from us as a healthcare system, but there are also politics that they need to come from governmental politics, so try to use these…all the tools that we have at our disposal are important, and also we have a very good support of advocacy groups. 

And this is something that I want to really profit their patient to say thanks because we have several, several advocacy groups that are doing a terrific job from testing to helping patients to go through this journey. So it’s really an important job, and obviously families, families are helping to these disparities and patients, so patients themself. So what I say always to the patient, raise your voice, empower yourself. Try to ask for your rights if you don’t understand your doctor… Ask again, if you want to have a second opinion, talk to your doctor, that is the most important thing. We are very open to help the patients, and that is our mission. So if I say to my patients, If you want to have a second opinion, please let me know, and I try to direct you to somebody who is an expert in the field and can help us to learn better your disease or your treatment, but I think it’s a situation that everyone is winning, especially the patient, but also ask for future patients understanding better every case. 

Internet Access, Digital Literacy, and Bridging the Digital Divide

In the modern healthcare era along with navigating COVID-19 infection concerns, Internet service and digital literacy are more important than ever for cancer patients and their loved ones. Telemedicine serves cancer patients with multiple benefits, some of which include protecting them from infection and virus risks, providing easy ways to refill prescriptions, schedule appointments, and view test results; and reducing time, costs, and stress of traveling to and from appointments. 

Internet Access, Digital Literacy, and the Digital Divide

Yet cancer patient advocates must look closely at Internet access, digital literacy, and the digital divide to support more underrepresented patients. A recent National Cancer Institute study of cancer patients and caregivers showed that 90 percent had Internet access, and 82 percent owned a smartphone. While these statistics look promising, there is still more work to be done to help underrepresented patients. Examining results from a recent study of rural cancer survivors reveals a digital divide. Medicare-covered cancer survivors in rural areas had telehealth availability 53 percent of the time compared to 63 percent in urban areas. Rural cancer survivors are also less likely to own desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, or tablets at a rate of 67 percent versus urban cancer survivors at 82 percent. Internet access also needs improvement with Medicare-covered rural cancer survivors at 58 percent access versus 79 percent in urban areas. 

Furthermore, Black and Hispanic survivors had lower technology ownership, with 65 percent of Black survivors and 67 percent of Hispanic survivors owning a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet versus 82 percent of white survivors. “Despite the potential of telehealth to meet the unique healthcare needs of cancer survivors (e.g., surveillance, comorbidities, primary and survivorship care), some patient groups face greater barriers to technology access,” the study authors wrote. “These patterned differences in use and access underscore a need to engage multilevel interventions to mitigate the underlying barriers to telehealth use.” 

U.S. Financial Support of Digital Healthcare Access

What can vulnerable cancer patients do to improve their situation if they’re lacking in Internet service or technology literacy? Fortunately, President Biden has put racial equity at center stage of his agenda and is working to end disparities in healthcare access and education. The  Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act helped provide telehealth and connected care services to patients, and the proposed infrastructure bill could help extend support. The U.S. federal government has taken action to help those in need of Internet service or improved Internet service. As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, President Biden and Vice President Harris operated with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to create the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The ACP provides eligible households with a high-speed Internet plan for no more than $30 per month. The Biden-Harris Administration has received commitments from some leading internet providers to offer ACP-eligible families who pair their ACP benefit with one of these plans to receive high-speed Internet at no cost. You can easily check to see if you qualify here.

Digital Literacy Training

For those looking to improve their digital literacy, Patient Empowerment Network can help people build their skills. The PEN digital sherpa® Program and Digitally Empowered® Course help cancer patients (mainly 65 and older) and their families become better prepared for their cancer journey. The goal is for participants to learn to use technology to their advantage and to become more tech-savvy. The program’s workshops help educate patients and care partners in basic Internet and social media skills to help them in their search for information about their illness and support resources for themselves and their families.

University students, known collectively as “sherpas,” have been specially trained by the Patient Empowerment Network to offer technology skills and are paired with program participants. The sherpas empower patients and care partners by training them in skills such as: 

  • Safely navigating online healthcare resources
  • Finding credible online resources
  • Forming online disease support communities
  • Using telemedicine
  • Navigating your health with social media
  • Using rideshare and wellness apps
  • Following and connecting with experts online

The Digitally Empowered Course opens access to a whole new world of knowledge and tools to assist you in researching your condition, asking informed questions, and taking an active role in shared decision-making with your care team. The 10-module Digitally Empowered course trains participants in:

  • How to access the Internet
  • Identifying credible resources and websites
  • The benefits of your patient portal
  • Using social media to connect and learn
  • Navigating your health with mobile devices
  • Apps to use for convenience and fun
  • How to use telemedicine
  • Accessing and joining online support communities

The pandemic brought some issues to light about gaps in Internet service and digital literacy. But vulnerable and underrepresented cancer patients and their loved ones no longer need to remain in that state. They now have options to move them toward becoming empowered and informed. 

Empowered and tech-savvy patients have the ability to build more support for themselves and to build knowledge and confidence. With increased confidence, patients feel more at ease to ask questions when they interact with their healthcare team members. This fortified knowledge and confidence then empowers them to make more informed decisions for optimal health outcomes and improved quality of life for patients. These results make a clear win-win for formerly underrepresented cancer patients and for those who work to support these patients.