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Study: Computerized Care Plans Help Ease Side Effects for Head and Neck Cancer Patients

March 01, 2018

The Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute and the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center have released a joint study showing the benefits of personalized, web-based care plans in helping head and neck cancer patients better cope with side effects of treatment.

The study tracked 43 patients in Hartford and New York to see the benefits of the electronic care plans, which included more coordination with primary care providers, treatment summaries to be shared with the care team, wellness guidelines  for physical activity and diet, and monitoring of late effects of treatment.  Traditionally, survivorship care plans for head and neck cancers were generic in addressing side effects and quality of life issues patients might experience.

“The face of the disease has really changed. Because of the prevalence of HPV (human papillomavirus) we’re seeing a younger and healthier patients who are getting the disease and surviving. The types of late effects from treatment can be more bothersome than some of the other cancers we treat,” says Dr. Andrew Salner, Medical Director, Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital who presented the findings with Dr. Eric Sherman, Associate Attending Member from MSK’s Head and Neck Oncology team during a community lecture about the links between HPV and head and neck cancer on Feb. 28 in West Hartford.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States with 79 million people, most in their late teens and early 20s, infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Most people who have HPV will not develop cancer. For some however, the virus can create damage that eventually causes a tumor to grow over the years.   The good news: Head and neck cancer is detectable through routine screening and the five year survival rate is more than 75 percent with even better outcomes for those patients with cancer related to HPV.

Long term side effects of treatment which might occur include mouth dryness, neck stiffness, swallowing dysfunction, and possible jaw bone injury.

According to the study, 93 percent of patients reported an improved quality of care and 98 percent said using the web-based care plan improved communication with their providers about their disease.

“The care plan really focuses on addressing all of those potential effects of treatment and provides strategies with how to cope with them.  It also provides strategies for when the patient should be seen by their team if a problem develops,” says Salner

Salner says the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute and MSK are working with the National Cancer Institute on possibly implementing the care plan pilot program for a larger patient base.

Hartford HealthCare is a member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance, which has brought MSK treatment standards, protocols, research and clinical trials to all HHCCI cancer centers, which include Backus, Windham, The Hospital of Central Connecticut, MidState Medical Center and Hartford.

MSK’s Dr. Sherman says the head and neck cancer patient study is one example of what the Alliance is trying to accomplish .

“We want to ensure is that care is exact same at both institutions.  So what we do at Memorial Sloan Kettering is the same thing we do at [Hartford HealthCare].   Secondly, we are able to share research, have access to a larger patient population for studies such as this, and it helps us to get these studies done more quickly so if they’re effective we can make them accessible to the general population, Dr. Sherman said.

Learn more about the Hartford HealthCare partnership with Memorial Sloan Kettering here