This year’s Rewrite Cancer Innovation Challenge invites teams to submit ideas for maintaining equitable access to care, irrespective of where patients live. This topic is more important than ever as our healthcare system tries to provide reliable and consistent care to those with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now launched for its third year, the Rewrite Cancer Innovation Challenge seeks to bring together the brightest minds from across the oncology community to devise possible solutions to common issues faced by patients, physicians and advocacy groups to help advance cancer care. The challenge was born from the understanding that there are moments in every cancer story that deserve critical thinking and a chance to be rewritten. By supporting innovative thinking and collaboration in the Canadian oncology community, we hope to inspire and support work that will change cancer care now and for the future.
This year’s challenge statement places special focus on equitable access to healthcare:
Healthcare facilities that are associated with academic institutions sometimes have access to newer and more innovative diagnostic and treatment options for their patients (including clinical trials), potentially leaving patients who live in more remote areas with limited access to novel approaches. How can we enhance and facilitate equitable access to diagnostic and treatment pathways for patients across Canada, irrespective of where they live?
The challenges cancer patients face have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to maintaining access to healthcare. In order to overcome barriers and boundaries to accessing healthcare, the pandemic has become a crucible for innovation and collaboration, but more support is needed. The Canadian healthcare system has experienced significant strain to keep up with the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as our pre-existing healthcare system needs. This strain on the system extends into many areas, including the cancer community, affecting the ability of cancer patients to access the care they need.
The onset of the pandemic led to a significant disruption in the provision of healthcare services for the cancer community and has created what has been called the “cancer backlog” in Canada. In a survey sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network, it was found that during the first wave of COVID-19 more than half (55%) of cancer patients reported having their appointments, tests and treatments cancelled or postponed. The situation has not improved in subsequent waves of the pandemic, and has created an overwhelming backlog of care as the system tries to catch up. As a result, there is significant anxiety and stress among patients, as nearly half of Canadians with cancer (56%), continue to be concerned about being able to access healthcare services . These statistics indicate the magnitude of patients that have experienced disruptions and delays in their treatment plans, as well as uncertainty in how these delays could impact their health.
The cancer community in Canada is facing new obstacles and old obstacles in new ways that require innovative solutions. Patients also report concern about potential risks of exposure when seeking out healthcare services, with an average of 16% of cancer patients avoiding visiting the ER. The combination of lack of access and lack of willingness to seek care in-person has led to a boom in providing healthcare remotely. Virtual appointments are just one example of improving access to healthcare, but their rise in popularity illustrate the willingness of physicians and patients to try new things to overcome the challenges amplified by the pandemic. Patients need additional solutions from the healthcare system to help them access the services they need.
For remote communities, including Indigenous communities, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on receiving cancer care is exacerbated even further by a lack of health professionals/services and a high prevalence of chronic diseases. In these areas, it becomes even more difficult to ensure the continuity of care both in the community and accessing healthcare through travel that has been restricted during the pandemic.
This pandemic has introduced additional challenges to an already difficult situation for cancer patients and intensifies the need to enhance access across the country to diagnostics and treatments for cancer care. In a time that requires us to be innovative and imagine the possibilities for what can be done for cancer patients, Rewrite Cancer supports community-made projects for lasting solutions.
To date, the Rewrite Cancer Innovation Challenge has recognized four winning teams across Canada, with projects that are still underway. These projects focus on benefits to patients, ranging from real time side effect tracking and care to advancing molecular profiling in lung cancer. You can learn more about the previous winning projects of the challenge here. In its first two years, the Rewrite Cancer program engaged over 100 professionals in the oncology community to participate with their affiliated academic institution, community hospital, and / or patient groups from across the country.
Visit rewritecancer.ca for more information and to register for the challenge. The submission deadline is May 25, 2021 and we look forward to hearing from you.
References 1. Leger Syndicate report on file.