How AZ Delta's digital care pathway improves patient outcomes and reduces costs
Oncology is a difficult department to work in. Lung cancer, as a specialty, is even more emotionally grueling. The stakes are high. The stress is higher. And that’s why Geert Anthoons, an oncology nurse at the AZ Delta Hospital in Belgium, decided to dedicate his career to helping patients through the journey.
For the past decade, Geert’s been doing just that: keeping his hands out, ready to help, and keeping his eyes on the future, looking for new ways to improve. So, when Dr. Demedts — one of the department’s lead physicians — brought a new digital care pathway to Geert’s attention, the oncology nurse was intrigued.
Managed through a digital tool, the care pathway was supposed to enhance communication between patients and clinicians. It was supposed to streamline out-of-department discussions, and it was supposed to make patients feel, and be, more heard.
It was a lot of “supposed-to’s,” and Geert was excited at the potential. But he was also wary. Many of his patients were older, so he had two primary concerns:
- Would his patients be able to work the technology?
- Would his patients even want to give the tool a try?
In 2017, the digital care pathway entered the clinic. And the results blew Geert away.
It wasn’t just that his patients could use the tool. It was that they were getting real benefits from it. After a couple of months, Geert saw that his patients had…
24/7 access to the digital tool meant that Geert’s patients could let their care teams know exactly how they were doing at any time. If they had a new reaction, symptom, or question, they were able to send an alert — and it would notify their whole team. Plus, with the care pathway’s weekly digital questionnaires, patients were empowered to share their experiences consistently. As a result, they felt safer — and more in control.
Patients no longer had to waste time calling into clinic or waiting for specialists to call them back — now, their back-and-forth was simplified. Plus, since everything was centralised, all care team members were always up-to-speed; this ensured less time was spent catching clinicians up in consultations. The result? Patients were spending more time enjoying their lives — outside of the clinic.
With the digital care pathway, collaboration between specialists grew dramatically. Clinicians of different backgrounds could discuss cases and pinpoint solutions quicker, and even patients were looking at their care more holistically: psychologists and social workers noticed the open channel in the digital tool caused a huge uptick in patients seeking mental health support.
“Can’t we develop a system where we’re still receiving the weekly questionnaire, even when there’s no treatment to report on?” They’d asked. And Geert was stunned. They wanted to stay engaged with the department, even when they didn’t have to? That meant something was working.
“It’s psychologically demanding work, but when patients are happy with the care they receive — when you’ve actually been able to contribute something positive to the process — that’s what keeps you strong,” Geert tells us, his passion shining through. - Geert Anthoons (AZ Delta)
Geert’s department was visibly evolving: patients were spending less time physically there, and there was a 25% reduction in their ER admissions. But he didn’t realize the full extent of those results until he was approached by some patients who’d just finished their treatment.
He got to watch his patients transform from bystanders in their health to active, empowered decision-makers, but he also got to see his department advance into a new era of patient care.
Now, he has 3 pieces of advice for departments implementing care pathways of their own:
- Determine specific goals and start with those: For the lung cancer care pathway, it was helping patients spend less time in clinic.
- Ask for feedback and use it to make adjustments: Geert’s team had a specific section in the digital tool for patients to note what was/wasn’t working for them in their care.
- Be ready to grow continuously: Every department and every care pathway has room to improve, and it’s the ones that are open to it that impact their patients most.
Geert’s proud of how much has changed since the lung cancer care pathway was first implemented in 2017. But with his hands in front of him, ready to help, and his eyes focused on the future — just as they were a decade ago — Geert knows that there are even more improvements waiting. And he can’t wait to help his patients experience them.