‘Digital cancer treatment is proven to result in fewer complications for patients, meaning fewer claims to health insurers,’ Onko’s practitioner founders
Launched last year and, so far, working direct with individuals Onko has evidenced proven outcomes for cancer patients, including a 44% improvements in complications and a 53% improvement in quality of life. The organisation says it is now actively speaking with private health insurers about offering its services through them. COVER spoke with co-founders Venetia Wynter-Blyth, a cancer nurse, and Krishna Moorthy, a cancer surgeon, to find out more.
Onko combines digital technology with the support of healthcare professionals to provide people preparing for, undergoing and recovering from cancer treatment with personalised expertise from cancer dietitians, physiotherapists, specialist nurses and psychologists.
"Onko provides clinical health improvement programmes to people in the comfort of their own home using app and web-based technology," explains Wynter-Blyth. "Its interactive and bespoke programmes are tailored to the individual and address the physical, nutritional and emotional needs throughout the cancer journey.
“insurers could save around £11,000 for every patient undergoing major cancer surgery”
"Cancer is one of the greatest health challenges of the 21st Century and its incidence is set to nearly double by 2030. 380,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed in the UK every year and there are 4 million cancer survivors today.
"Until now the focus has largely been directed towards treating the cancer, often at the expense of the individual's overall health. Onko was launched in 2019 because working in the NHS as a surgeon and nurse respectively, we recognised the need to look at overall health and cancer treatment equally."
Onko reports that it has had some "very positive" conversations with health insurers about offering the service through them.
"Onko not only benefits individual cancer patients, it saves insurers significant sums of money by reducing complications and delivering better outcomes," says Moorthy.
"What's more, we are currently working on a pilot to integrate the Onko app into cancer pathways within the NHS, which is an important step towards making this support available to as many people as possible. The more people who are able to access the service then the better, so we want to work with both health insurers and the individual patients, as well as with the NHS directly."
He adds: "We have already conducted a small trial with Bupa patients who have had their surgery in HCA facilities, and are in conversations with a number of other major insurers with a plan to start pilot projects and offer Onko programmes at scale in the future."
Wynter-Blyth continues: "Of the trial we have carried out with Bupa patients, the results show that compared to national data, there was a two-fold reduction in post-op complications and a three-day reduction in post-op hospital stay required.
"The result of this is a significant cost reduction to insurers and we estimate they could save around £11,000 for every patient undergoing major cancer surgery. We also previously ran a series of trials - using our technology - with the NHS and the results of the programme demonstrated that patients had a better tolerance to pre-surgical chemotherapy and a significant reduction in post-op complications, again with shorter hospital stays and a better quality of life."
And bearing in mind the huge backlog of cancer referrals and treatment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as reported in COVER, could Onko help here?
Moorthy comments: "There is a direct correlation between health status and cancer outcomes. In other words, if people take a proactive approach to optimising their health, they are likely to tolerate treatment better and recover quicker.
"Whilst we can't influence cancer diagnoses we can certainly enable people to take control of their health, thus reducing hospital admissions, complications and expediting recovery. This approach will, in turn, reduce the burden on hospital systems at a time when they are already over-stretched."
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