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Presidential panel aims connected health at cancer

Connected health is one of the fastest-growing and most fascinating of all the health IT sub-categories, particularly because it has two meanings: it deals both with electronic, usually remote, links between providers and patients, and also with connections between providers.

Connected health is also an overarching term (most people agree it was essentially coined by Joseph Kvedar, M.D., founder and director of the Center for Connected Health at Partners Healthcare in Boston) that incorporates what we know as mHealth and telehealth.

Now, federal health officials have discovered that connected health could be a serious weapon against the No. 1 killer of Americans under 65 – cancer.

The prestigious President’s Cancer Panel kicks off a series on connected health and cancer Thursday, Dec. 11 at the Royal Sonesta Boston hotel in Cambridge, MA, near the high-tech neighborhood of Kendall Square

If you can’t make it to the daylong workshop session, which is free and open to the public without registration, track the proceedings on Twitter by following #cHealth4Cancer. Check out the agenda here.

Appropriately, Kvedar, who recently presided over his center’s annual Connected Health Symposium, is participating in the Cambridge session’s first panel. He joins:

  • David Ahern, special adviser for the health communication s and informatics branch of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) division of cancer control and population sciences
  • Thomas Goetz, co-founder of health technology firm Iodine and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Meanwhile, Bradford Hesse, chief of the NCI’s health communications and research branch and co-chairman of the Cambridge event, told SearchHealthIT that the connected health-cancer series comes at a fortuitous time: The “quantified self” movement is gathering momentum and innumerable connected health initiatives are flourishing.

A main cancer care problem that series organizers hope to address through connected health strategies is discontinuity of care, Hesse said. The commonest expression of that phenomenon today is when cancer patients in homecare fail to administer their oral chemotherapy regimens, he said.

“We’re going to have more and more of that as patients get older and are surviving longer,” he said.

One connected health approach to solving that problem is to adapt the EHR at the cancer patient’s healthcare provider, an arrangement that enables a doctor to reach out to the patient with reminders and encouragement to stay with a home-based treatment protocol.

Another path to the same goal is to use emerging Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies, such as WI-Fi-enabled medicine bottle screw tops to monitor treatment adherence, Hesse noted.

Cancer prevention — particularly to guard against reoccurrence for people in remission and also to ward off secondary ailments — is another realm in which connected health can make an impact.

Hesse said it is a notable coincidence that just as the president’s cancer panel zeroes in on connected health for 2015, Apple Corp. unveiled its iOS 8 suite of apps, including what could become an emergent wellness standard in the consumer tech giant’s Healthkit program. Apple has also forged a deal with EHR market leader Epic Systems Corp. to merge Healthkit with Epic’s systems.

Meanwhile, as wearable wellness and fitness bands proliferate, physicians will likely start to incorporate those devices into cancer care in another expression of connected health.

“Doctors are saying to survivors, ‘You had chemo. Now you need to get healthy again,” Hesse said.

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