Hospital Risks and Cancer Trials Using Social Media

I thought I would start this month’s post with a statistic…Experience in healthcare is important and between me and two other consultants here at Sherwood, we have over 200 years of experience between us and…good looks never fade.

Anyway, to news! Worryingly the Charity, Action against Medical Accidents say that too many trusts are still not responding to patient safety alerts in England and goes on to say there is no excuse for non-compliance. What patient safety alert means, is that with each alert not complied with, patients are being put at unnecessary risk and unfortunately, lives are being lost as a result.

The Department of Health data showed there were over 650 cases of NHS trusts not complying with alerts within deadline. Though this is a 50% fall from 2010, Action against Medical Accidents first highlighted the issue in 2010 when it obtained the figures under a freedom of information request.

Alerts are issued when potentially harmful situations are identified in health settings, such as the risk of overdoses or using medical equipment. The latest data, from January, showed that there were 654 instances of patient safety alerts not having been complied with – half the figure from August. In total there were 203 trusts which had failed to comply with at least one alert, while five trusts had not complied with 10 or more alerts.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Although progress has been made, much more needs to be done across the system. We expect trusts to comply with safety alerts.” This is why I am an advocate of private healthcare because the risks are fewer.

Okay now on a completely different tact as I want to put this thought out for debate and it stems from my continuous social media learning and journey; a recent story about US clinical trials got me thinking:

Approximately 8,000 US clinical trials are accepting cancer patients as participants. Interestingly, three-quarters of US cancer patients expect their doctor to inform them of such trials. Yet only 2% of newly diagnosed cancer patients participate.

Research by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has analysed data from 1533 oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons who provide care for lung and colorectal cancer patients. It found that 56.7% of doctors said that they had referred or enrolled at least one patient in a clinical trial in the past 12 months. Medical oncologists were most likely to do so, followed by radiation oncologist then surgeons.

Medics who were affiliated with an academic medical centre were more likely to enrol patients in trials. Moreover, getting paid for referring or enrolling patients was also a contributing factor to increased likelihood of enrolling patients in trials.

There is a school of thought which thinks that by increasing patient enrolment in cancer trials is positive as it helps to increases knowledge of how to treat cancer. So, if we hold this school of thought up, then how do we in the world increase enrolment? How about an award system for doctors who refer or a target sheet, though I believe that this could be a conflict of interest.

So, I wondered if perhaps social media could play a role…Through apps which could track clinical trials, to enable cancer patients to find out more about enrolment with the help of their doctor. Or create social media platforms where patients could discuss the pros and cons of trial involvement. Perhaps clinical trials could involve Twitter, where patients tweet about their experience, or contribute to Facebook, either openly or anonymously to make trial enrolment seem like part of the normal cancer treatment experience? Or should we leave things alone and let the power continue to rest with doctors to make all the calls on who participates in cancer trials?

John Crisford
Tel: 01277 822922
Twitter: @SherwoodHealth

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