Vimal Patel13/12/19

3 min read

The power of digital: reducing diagnosis times

Dashes

A charity’s digital presence is an extremely powerful tool. Aside from offering an outlet for fundraising and awareness efforts, it is a direct communication channel with the individuals and families affected by their cause. 

For example, if a parent’s child falls ill, often they will Google their symptoms. With answers at our fingertips, we have become reliant on the knowledge the World Wide Web provides us with. It is this notion that makes it vitally important that charities consider their ‘bigger picture’ objectives when developing their digital strategy.

A fantastic example of how technology can save lives and improve diagnosis times, is The Brain Tumour Charity. In the UK alone, ten children and teenagers are diagnosed with a brain tumour every week, that is more than one a day. In 2015,  The Brain Tumour Charity launched its ‘Defeating Brain Tumours’ strategy with two clear objectives: to double brain tumour survival rates and half the number of people living with brain tumours. 

As part of this mission, the charity embraced digital and launched its HeadSmart campaign - a website specifically designed to help parents recognise the symptoms of brain tumours and improve early diagnosis of the disease. The idea behind HeadSmart grew from the concerns of families and healthcare professionals about the prolonged time it was taking for children and young people with a brain tumour to be diagnosed. This included Neil and Angela Dickson, founders of the charity, whose daughter Samantha died from a brain tumour at the age of 16. 

HeadSmart provides concerned parents with vital information about brain tumour symptoms which, on many occasions, has meant the difference between life and death. The Brain Tumour Charity harnessed leading digital trends to provide a user experience that was ‘app-like’ in nature to ensure familiarity and clarity in usability. Similarly, it splits the brain tumour symptoms into age categories (babies, children, teens) to avoid confusion and doubt in diagnosis. 

The impact HeadSmart has had on reducing the diagnosis time of brain tumours is staggering. Before the launch of HeadSmart’s brain tumour guidelines, average diagnosis time for children with brain tumours in the UK was 13 weeks. Four years after publication of the guideline this was reduced to 9.1 weeks and most recently average diagnosis times have been reduced to 6.5 weeks.

Take Jack for example, Claire Lloyd, Jack’s mother, stumbled across the HeadSmart website after her nine-year-old son Jack had been vomiting regularly during the day for more than a week. When anti-sickness medication prescribed by the GP made no difference, Claire typed 'child with persistent vomiting' into Google. Her search led her immediately to HeadSmart, which revealed that vomiting with no other obvious symptoms of illness could be caused by a brain tumour. 

Just two hours after discovering HeadSmart, Jack began to complain for the first time of severe head and neck pain – another symptom listed on the HeadSmart website. 

Jack's parents took him straight to the hospital where an MRI scan revealed a rare pineal tumour in the centre of his brain, causing a potentially life-threatening build-up of fluid. He had emergency surgery later that day to reduce the swelling and three weeks later underwent a 12-hour operation to remove as much of the tumour as possible. Three months later, Jack is recovering well.

If it were not for HeadSmart, Jack’s story may have ended differently. With today’s reliance on digital, we have an opportunity to significantly improve diagnosis times and the effect of life-threatening diseases. Charities and the medical industry have a duty to embrace all that the digital revolution offers. With trends such as artificial intelligence on the rise, a world with digital GP’s and self-diagnosing wearables might not be so far-fetched! 

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