‘Ask Me Anything’: the potential to revolutionise how people access information and gain knowledge on their own health conditions

Web-TileLiving with cancer can be overwhelming, confusing and lonely. But what if there was an online place to ask questions, to speak with cutting-edge experts in the field, or ask an opinion outside of the traditional consulting room?

Part of DigitalHealth.London’s Tomorrow’s Patient campaign.

On Wednesday 16 November, two lung cancer oncologists took time out of their busy clinics to take part in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on the social network HealthUnlocked. Adam Marcus, Associate Professor in the Department of Hematology and Oncology, and Suresh Ramalingam, Chief of Thoracic Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute USA, invited people from anywhere across the world, to ask questions on lung cancer – anything from diet to immunotherapy was encouraged. Marcus and Ramalingam then used their clinical knowledge to provide insight and understanding to people with this condition.

F2BRunning on lung cancer organisation Free to Breathe’s online community within HealthUnlocked, questions normally reserved for a private appointment were asked and answered in minutes and second opinions offered on treatment options. The one-hour session added a new type of clinical expertise to the platform HealthUnlocked, which already provides peer to peer support in this online community to people with
lung cancer 24/7.

The success of the AMA was reflected in its popularity and the feedback after the event. The session showcased the potential of digital technology to push the traditional boundaries of healthcare and revolutionise how people access information and gain knowledge on their own health conditions. HealthUnlocked will be looking to roll these AMAs out to other health areas and online communities over the coming months.

AMA round-up

Q: What are the benefits of staying on Alimta only, rather than adding an immunotherapy drug at this time?

A: You bring up an important issue about combination approaches. I am pleased to hear that your cancer is stable. I also want to make sure that you have been tested for EGFR, ALK and ROS1 to determine whether targeted therapy would be an option. At this time, continuing a treatment that seems to be working is preferred. The addition of immunotherapy to maintenance chemotherapy has not been studied yet. We are in very early days with immunotherapy and there are lot of open questions. It is clear that immunotherapy will be important for your care down the road.

Q: I feel that a diet plays a big role in fighting cancer, but my doctor says there is no scientific proof. Do you agree?

A: There have been big investments recently in understanding diet (precision diet for example) and how it impacts prevention as well as treatment. The jury is still out on how this data will impact clinical care, but overall results do show an impact on treatment at least in the laboratory. Nevertheless, maintaining a healthy lifestyle has been proven over and over again to decreasing cancer risk.

Q: I have been in remission for three years and was told recently it wasn’t in my lymph nodes anymore. How much of a percentage would I have to make it to the five-year mark?

A: Most of the recurrences happen early. Since you have passed three years, I would rate your likelihood of cure as high. You still need regular follow up with scans until at least five years.

Q: My maintenance chemo schedule is Alimta every three weeks. Sometimes I go four weeks to accommodate vacation. Is there any research to indicate whether outcomes differ by having treatment every four weeks instead of three? Or long term side effects?

A: It should be perfectly OK to do it every four weeks whenever necessary. I don’t think it makes a difference in outcomes.

Information posted on HealthUnlocked can support, but will not replace the relationship between you and your doctor or any other healthcare professionals. Information from this site may inform your discussions as well as the exploration of treatment options with your healthcare professionals. You should always consult a healthcare professional if considering changing your medication or treatment.

HealthUnlocked is a 2015 NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) company.