There has been much hype around healthcare consumerism lately, with direct-to-consumer digital health and wellness apps coming into the market at unprecedented rates - But can we really trust patients to filter through this noise and find true value? The booming industry of direct-to-consumer oncology solutions has clear benefits for patients who are aware of the solutions and willing to engage, but for mass adoption and scalability to occur, there needs to be greater awareness of these offerings available to the healthcare fraternity and wider public.

From Patient to Savvy Consumer ?

Within other industries where there has been a similar shift towards direct-to-consumer technologies, we have seen that value for money is one of the biggest things consumers seek. However, when it comes to healthcare, the end goal for the consumer is rarely just a cost reduction - they want to know that these solutions are actually benefiting their health too. This end goal is even more niche when it comes to the cancer consumer, with improved quality of life being top priority.

It’s in the DNA

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has exploded in the last few years, with companies expanding their offerings to include a broad range of health, ancestry, and lifestyle information. Helix, for example, now offer a test called Vinome, where you receive wine recommendations ‘uniquely tailored to your taste preferences and scientifically selected based on your DNA’. Helix, Ancestry.com, and MapMyGenome can tell you information about your physical traits, how well you metabolize certain foods, how good you are at sports etc...the list goes on.

Sifting through this saturated market and trying to find the real value for consumers in terms of health related insights can seem challenging. Where the usefulness lies is in genetic testing that can lead to improved clinical outcomes for patients who are at risk of certain diseases based on their DNA. Putting the power in the hands of the consumer might be considered risky business, but if patients are becoming actively engaged in their own health and this leads to earlier detection and diagnosis, then we should be embracing these technologies.

When it comes to actual health related insights, 23andMe are largely recognised as the leading genetic testing company, having over 5,000,000 users of their service since they began offering their home genetic testing kits in 2006. In March of this year, 23andMe broke ground when they announced that they had received the first-ever FDA authorization for a direct-to-consumer genetic test for cancer risk. Through 23andMe, people can now test for three genetic variants found on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes known to be associated with higher risk for breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. It won't be long until we see other companies following suit and seeking the coveted FDA stamp of approval for similar genetic tests.

Better Together - Patient support solutions

There are opportunities for direct-to-consumer solutions within oncology from prevention to care through survivorship. In particular, we have seen a growing number of patient support and self-management solutions being developed. Patients who receive a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelmed with information regarding their condition, treatment, medication plan, check-ups and appointments. Digital solutions can offer patients services to aid with the management of their condition and connect them to other patients going through a similar experience. The CancerAid solution is a great example of this. Cancer Aid helps patients store all their treatment and diagnostic information in one place, access medically accurate peer reviewed information, track and manage their symptoms and medication effectiveness, connect with others going through similar experiences, and keep up to date with cancer news and research. CancerAid also has a component in which healthcare providers can use the solution to monitor their patients remotely and gain insights around symptom management and medication adherence.

CancerGraph is another solution that helps people to track symptoms and side effects of their cancer. App users can choose from cancer types, medications and concerns, and can peruse a list of over 200 symptoms and side effects to pull into their personal profile. CancerGraph then distills the data into a report users can view on their phone and email to their doctor.

Smart Patients, PatientsLikeMe and Healthunlocked are all online communities for patients who are going through an illness, with strong oncology communities established in each. These platforms allow patients to share information about their condition, learn from others going through similar conditions, and be supported by an online community. Some even offer services where patients can find out about the latest treatments regarding their specific type of cancer, and discover clinical trials they may be eligible for.

The benefits of these solutions for cancer patients are obvious, from being more engaged in their health, to improved symptom management and medication adherence, to facilitating more informed conversations with their physician.

Viva la Revolution

The growing number of direct-to-consumer solutions currently available within the oncology space is beneficial for patients who actively want to get involved in their health and know where to find the technology, but at the end of the day if this is really going to revolutionise cancer care, these solutions need to be more easily obtainable, with greater awareness of their offerings available to the healthcare fraternity and wider public.

While uptake from other patients and recommendations from family members can increase awareness and use of these solutions, mass adoption and scaling will likely only happen when physicians begin to discuss the technology to their patients.
The sweet spot is where healthcare providers embrace these direct-to-consumer solutions as facilitators for a better experience and better care for the patient, which ultimately is the end goal for all involved.

Public interest around companies like 23andMe should be welcomed, recognising the fact that people taking an active interest in their own health can facilitate earlier detection and diagnosis. These solutions shouldn't live in isolation in a consumer world, where patients are unsure how to action the information they receive, but instead be welcomed by the health care fraternity, who understand the necessity for counselling and medically informed conversations for patients who discover they are at risk for a certain cancer, and encourage the the initiative to invest in their own health.

Here’s a call to pharma and HCPs to help consumers navigate through this field to find medically accurate insights and enable these consumer facing solutions to become an integral component of the cancer care journey.