Digital Tool Identifies Cancer Patient Needs

The UK charity, Macmillan Cancer Support has a long history of innovation in cancer care. In recent years some UK cancer patients have `Holistic Needs Assessments’ at key points in their journey, such as diagnosis or change of treatment. Typically, these are structured, face to face conversations of around 30 minutes between a patient and someone on their healthcare team, based around a simple set of questions.

Why electronic and why now?

Originally the assessments were agreed on paper. Macmillan then designed an electronic version for use on ipads (electronic Holistic Needs Assessment – eHNA), typically used in waiting rooms while patients waited for consultations or treatments. The next step was widening this to enable the assessments to be carried out virtually on the patient’s own phone or device, which became essential when access to clinics became curtailed during the pandemic.

How does it work?

Using the eHNA digital tool, the patient works step by step through a series of structured prompts and questions. As the name `holistic’ implies, it addresses all aspects of the person’s life with cancer, including physical, practical, emotional, family, support and spiritual areas.

The idea is that the person can use it to:

  • Think about their main needs and concerns
  • Discuss what they need most with a care team member
  • Inform and agree a Personalised Care and Support Plan, where these are available.

This can help the care team to gain a clearer picture of how best to support the individual, point them towards the most relevant sources of support and share the right information at the right time. 

Understanding patient data

Macmillan’s eHNA has been profiled as a case study by Understanding Patient Data, a cross-stakeholder body supported by the UK Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and Welcome.

This group noted that the tool enabled:

  • “issues to be flagged up earlier than would otherwise be the case”
  • all healthcare professionals can (with consent) have access to the same summary for `joined up’ care “such as the individual’s GP or as the patient pathway moves from an acute to a community setting.”

Where the person has given their consent, their needs can be combined with data from other cancer patients,`de-personalised’ and pooled in order to:

  • Identify changing trends in what is needed most by different types of patients, with different cancers, or in different locations
  • Use the expressed needs and concerns to target resources to address unmet needs identified.


Find out more about the new tool at…

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Read Understanding Patient Data’s case study at… 

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Download the patient booklet at…

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