Most physicians agree that EHRs are useful for the entire process of cancer diagnosis and treatment. However, we are all also very familiar with the struggle that comes with patients who are not willing to share everything. Without all the information, the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment is affected. In this way, EHRs run up against the same issue that we’ve always had — information limited to what a patient chooses to share, and what health care providers currently know.

That being said, how can health care systems gain better insight into how patients with cancer navigate the complex facets of their diagnosis and treatment to enable physicians to help them further? The answer lies in the powerful combination of EHRs with the patient’s own recorded experiences.

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Tapping Into the Patient Mindset Through Social Media

It is obvious that social media plays a major role in today’s society, and there are many social platforms that have changed the way that we form communities. What makes social networking so special is the ability to communicate with people outside of one’s immediate community, but who may share similar journeys and experiences. In this way, social media creates a larger, worldwide community that can help individuals find others to talk to and lean on in a time of need.

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For patients with cancer, this aspect of community interaction is especially crucial.

Belong.Life is one such platform that provides access to a cancer-focused social network including a full range of patient experiences, leveraging data and insights provided by more than 100,000 patients with cancer from around the world on all topics ― even sensitive ones. Because social media offers patients the ability to speak freely and anonymously, nothing is off-limits, which creates a truly open and honest dialogue.

In some cases, these virtual conversations can encourage others to speak openly about subjects they have avoided when speaking with their primary doctors and learn from the experience of others. Being able to ask questions, voice concerns, and speak without fear of judgement is certainly liberating for the patient, and has the added benefit of providing the health care team with a better idea of what patients with cancer are thinking and doing in the real world.

Access to this information can also help health providers and payers identify patterns for correct drug usage, schedules, and related side effects. Equipped with this insight, physicians become more knowledgeable when advising patients, which eventually leads to better treatments and outcomes.

Combining EHRs With Patient Social Media Communities

EHRs are a powerful tool for medical professionals to accurately diagnose and treat patients with cancer. However, it is crucial that patient-reported experiences also be taken into consideration when making clinical decisions. For physicians and the medical community to fully gain such insight, harnessing the power of cancer-based communities on social media is an effective, forward-thinking way to accomplish this goal.

Social applications hold the key to significant, previously unreported patient data. As more physicians and providers tap into large cancer-specific social communities, they will have access to added value that can positively impact the entire cancer treatment process.

As oncologists, it is possible to use social apps to educate patients and their caregivers about the steps to be taking medications, including diverse treatment protocols and possible side effects and outcomes. At the same time, it is also possible to increase adherence by keeping patients informed with regular reminders, reports, measurements, and surveys to maximize their outcomes and facilitate their journeys.

Together, I believe that the combination of EHRs and social insights will prove an invaluable tool for supporting patients, physicians, and health systems through the cancer treatment continuum and beyond.

Daniel Vorobiof, MD, is the chief medical officer of Belong.Life, the world’s largest cancer patient and caregiver social network. He heads medical research conducted by the Belong social community by way of its digital patient platform and leads discussions in the community regarding cancer concerns and treatment. A renowned oncologist with 40 years of experience, Dr. Vorobiof previously served as Executive Board Member of the International Committee of ASCO, (The American Society of Clinical Oncology) and was the Founder and Director of the Sandton Oncology Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.