We spoke to Dr Bhavagaya Bakshi, CEO and co-founder of C the Signs, about the impact of the COVID-19 on their users and how our 2021 AI for Social Impact programme helped them to respond. C The Signs is just one of many of our social tech ventures that continue to play a leading role in tackling the social challenges amplified by the pandemic.
Q. Tell us about the change you want to see in the world
A. Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide – with 1 in 6 deaths globally caused by cancer. Currently half of all patients are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, with less than 35% surviving to 5 years. Yet if diagnosed early, over 80% of patients would survive 10 years or more.
The power of early detection and the impact it could have on patients’ lives and communities across the world spurred us to invent a solution and reimagine a future where every patient can survive cancer.
Q. Describe what you do
A. C the Signs is a clinical platform that uses AI mapped with the latest evidence to identity patients at risk of cancer at the earliest and most survivable stage of the disease. Covering the entire spectrum of cancer, C the Signs can identify which cancer(s) a patient is at risk of, and the most appropriate next step, be it a test, diagnostic or specialist review.
Q. Tell us about your users and how have they been impacted by the pandemic
A. C the Signs is used by healthcare professionals, in particular GPs, across primary care. During the pandemic GPs needed the opportunity to work flexibly, whilst ensuing that vulnerable patients and those in need were still receiving medical care. There was a shift in the environment from seeing patients face-to-face, to consulting with patients virtually, through phone and video consultation. Due to the increase in demand, there was also a need to triage high risk patients effectively, as all parts of the NHS system were running at maximum capacity.
Across England, there was an 85% drop in suspected cancer referrals – this was in part due to patients not coming forward in primary care, and the challenge of identifying patients at risk of cancer, amongst the high volume of patients seeking healthcare and managing Covid care and demand.
Q. How did you respond to the needs of your users during the pandemic?
A. Over the course of the pandemic, we adapted the technology to support with the rapidly changing environment in healthcare, enabling patients to undergo cancer risk assessment and referral from the safety of their own home.
We worked with the NHS to help support patients’ education and understanding of the importance of attending cancer tests and specialist reviews with consultants and outlined how these services were being delivered safely in the hospitals, away from Covid care. With the ability to send SMS text messages, emails, and videos to patients through the system to patients, to provide information and education.
Lastly, we supported cancer patients and primary care to track patients on a suspected cancer pathway and those with a new cancer diagnosis through the C the Signs Dashboard – which automatically tracks all patients, including those who required a ‘deferral’ during the pandemic and needed to be referred at a later date, such as those too ill to travel, suffering from Covid or isolating.
Q. How have the broader social issues that you’re addressing changed?
A. Outside of the impact this pandemic has had on cancer care and services, there are longstanding inequalities in accessing cancer care and in cancer outcomes of patients from minority ethnic background, patients with physical or learning disability, patients with mental health conditions and patients from the LGBTQ community.
It is imperative to identify the reasons behind these disparities and reduce the gap in cancer outcomes. Through C the Signs we have started to track these data points to better understand the problem and challenge in primary care, and to provide bespoke interventions and solutions to engage with high risk and vulnerable communities.
Core to this is about making health care more accessible for all communities – which includes understanding why you are at risk of cancer in a personalised way using language specific education resources, read-easy leaflets for patients with learning disabilities, and effectively communicating the cancer risk for trans-men and trans-women who are often marginalised from cancer screening programmes
Q. How did Social Tech Trust’s support prepare you for this journey?
A. Social Tech Trust helped us to embed our impact in our mission and explore how to effectively quantify impact and social value, and communicate this effectively. Furthermore, how to capture the voice of the patient in our impact reporting, as the main benefactor of the technology, and the use of qualitative above quantitative data, to illustrate this.
Q. What role do you think purpose-driven technology plays in shaping a better future?
A. Technology has the ability to revolutionise healthcare and improve quality of life and patient outcomes. Where impact, growth and ROI are all aligned, these organisations have the power to disrupt industries and push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Q. What’s next for C the Signs?
A. C the Signs is currently supporting 1000 primary care providers in the UK National Health Services (NHS). We plan to scale the technology across the NHS and launch C the Signs in the US. We will also be looking at how we can support patients prior to them seeing their healthcare professional, with targeted information to raise awareness, support education, prevention, and engagement with cancer screening programmes – this will be through C my Signs –a patient App, giving patients the agency over their own health, and empower then to be make informed decisions about their cancer risk.
Find out more about C the Signs on their website.
Published November 2021.