A new big data study finds a skyrocketing cancer burden in Mexico, with most growth coming from the growing aging population. mHealth can help bridge access to care gaps and improve quality of life for patients, but not until digital devices and Internet access are less expensive, and designed specifically for seniors.
A big data study published in ecancermedicalscience indicates that, in Mexico, the majority of the future cancer burden will be on an overlooked and underserved population: the elderly.
In an attempt to quantify the cancer burden on Mexico’s rapidly expanding aging population, Dr. Ajay Aggarwal, from the Institute of Cancer Policy, Kings College London, led a team of researchers as they analyzed population data, information found in cancer databases, and research from Mexican institutions.
The aging population and the urgent—and growing—need for cancer care in Mexico
As a result of this analysis, Aggarwal identified an area in urgent need. He expects the number of new cancer cases in Mexico to “increase by nearly 75% by 2030, with the majority occurring in elderly patients.” According to Aggarwal:
Elderly populations, particularly women and those living in rural areas, face significant barriers to accessing high quality cancer care in Mexico. They are vulnerable to diagnostic delays and potentially impoverishing expenditures.
The study identifies a number of factors that could contribute to the growing cancer burden, including: lack of insurance, fewer screenings, inability to pay for specialist services, long waiting times, lower education levels, and poverty.
Fear, anxiety, and lack of awareness may also cause Mexicans to delay cancer screenings. Aggarwal found that 40 percent of older persons seeking treatment had experienced their symptoms for more than 12 months. This delay can mean advanced stages at diagnosis, which makes cancer harder to treat.
The impact on cancer outcomes and quality of life are potentially profound given the expected rise in cancer burden,
Dr. Aggarwal says.
The Promise of mHealth
Around the world, mHealth is gaining traction in patient education, diagnosis and treatment support, disease management, and remote monitoring. If the elderly in Mexico—and around the world—had access to mHealth-enabling digital devices, cancer support would be a finger tap away.
mHealth can improve communication; it can enhance and facilitate the integration of care processes; it can suggest greater productivity of health providers’ operations, and perhaps eventually healthcare systems. It can enhance transparency and, in such, increase accountability. But it can also empower the patient… More specifically, we talk about mHealth as a promise to enhance quality of life and appropriateness of care.
mHealth cancer care apps may offer new, relatively inexpensive routes to supportive cancer care that can improve patient quality of life, and reduce unnecessary costs (i.e., delayed diagnosis as well as lost work time due to doctor visits). Education through mHealth can help patients understand and track any side effects of treatment.
mHealth can help patients manage their medications and pain symptoms during treatment, review their treatment plans if they become confused, and find much needed social support.
Research shows that
mHealth has great potential for linking patients, caregivers, and health care professionals; for enabling early detection and intervention; for lowering costs; and achieving better quality of life.
The road to mHealth in Mexico: Bridging the digital divide
In communications studies, the digital divide refers to the gap between those who access digital technologies and those that do not. Sometimes, the digital divide is about the affordability of access. Sometimes, it’s about an individual’s interest (or lack thereof), fear, or ability to use connected devices. In Mexico, it’s all of the above.
Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America, but lags in digital accessibility. With only 38 percent of Mexicans using smartphones, this penetration level will need to be addressed before mHealth solutions can reach those that need them.
Seniors face significant access barriers
With fixed, often very low, incomes, lowering the costs of access to high-speed Internet could improve smartphone adoption rates for Mexican seniors. However, seniors—in Mexico and around the world—have additional barriers when it comes to entering the digital age. One study of barriers to smartphone adoption among the elderly found several reasons for their slow uptake, including cost, vision impairments, and lack of interest and technical knowledge.
Innovators that want to make a difference in this space are designing digital technologies (i.e., smartphones, tablets, and other mHealth devices) specifically for the technology needs and skills of the elderly. Among other design tweaks, designing for seniors means considering the following: ease of use for those unfamiliar with computers, size and clarity of font, and the ability to distinguish between accidental touches and purposeful commands.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.