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6 Ways to Unbungle THAT Cancer Bungle



You would have seen the recent headlines about ‘Patients left in the dark after Federal Government secretly bungled new national cancer screening programs’, namely, a delay of 6 months of the rollout of new cervical and bowel screening programs, potentially risking thousands of lives. Let’s leave out the sensationalism and look at this case study from the lens of the 6E patient experience framework:



[icon name=”search” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Experience:  There are no safeguards in the interim to counter the delay. Research conducted on 212 cancer patients in Canada has shown that increased wait times affect perceptions of information, instructions, and the overall treatment provided by physicians. Essentially, the initial perceptions of what would have been a very positive government move are now likely to put patient perceptions of all stakeholders and drivers of the program, at risk. A robust communications strategy and associated PR plan would advise key stakeholders, including patients, of issues that might impact them and this needs to include monitoring and management of social media.

[icon name=”search” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Emotion: Women are unable to access the new human papillomavirus screening and have limited access to the old Pap smear program which is ‘already being wound down’. Patient emotions around this lack of access are likely to run the gamut of anger, frustration, worry and uncertainty. The ideal way to address this is through clear and transparent communication around causes of the delay and most importantly, what is being done to address the needs of the high-risk segment in the interim.

[icon name=”search” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Engagement:  The Department of Health and Telstra (awarded the contract to roll National Cancer Screening Register) are working together with the states and pathology companies to find a solution. In ensuring that these talks don’t take place in silos, they can also be complemented with discussions with patient representatives from high-risk and low-risk groups. Getting buy-in from the start with patients ensures greater buy-in during the path to resolution and the resolution itself.

[icon name=”search” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Execution:  Indicative reasons for the delay include a lack of specialist staffing (only 1 in 5 pathologists available beyond May) and technical problems around the National Cancer Screening Register. These barriers, which seemed to be identified too late, illustrate a potential lack of planning (forecasting specialist resources) and insufficient risk mitigation strategies (foreseeing technical risks and winding down the old screening program too quickly). The most urgent element currently is to investigate solutions for high-risk groups. Seeking assistance from private hospitals could be key to the solution.

[icon name=”search” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Excellence:  Continued monitoring of media, building open and transparent communication lines through patient and stakeholder engagement platforms, risk mitigation and flexibility in solution development, would allow for a smoother implementation of the program when ready and (hopefully!) override its initial negative publicity around ‘over-promising and under-delivering’.

[icon name=”search” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Evolution:  There is an opportunity to roll out the program more broadly, to tap into other pre-existing registries that may have overlapping resources.  There is also the need to keep in mind that screening is just one step of the patient journey; there are a myriad of touch points for a new cancer patient that requires equal focus. In fact, I presented at the Malaysian Cancer Care Conference just a few days ago that included an audience of cancer survivors who were calling for the government and healthcare providers to consider their needs across the whole journey.

One of the many lessons we can take from the ‘cancer bungle’, is that it is better to do everything you can to get it right the first time – or risk having to clean up an (unforeseen) mess.

Find out how Energesse can help you get it right from the start – reach out to us now!


1 Patients left in the dark after Federal Government secretly bungled new national cancer screening programs’:
2Use of screening tests, diagnosis wait times, and wait-related satisfaction in breast and prostate cancer

About the Author: Dr Avnesh Ratnanesan

Dr Avi is a medical doctor with broad healthcare sector experience including hospitals, biotech, pharmaceuticals and the wellness industry. He is a leading expert who coaches and consults to senior executives, entrepreneurs, practitioners, organisations and governments.