Wearable technology could improve patients’ quality of life and help medical professionals to provide more tailored care. Associate Professor Vijay Sivaraman discusses the potential benefits, and why widespread adoption could be five years away.
6 June 2016
A smartphone app, which helps patients to navigate their cancer journey, is also good news for medical professionals.
“CancerAid can help practitioners to support their patients through a very isolating and frightening experience,” says Nikhil Pooviah, a doctor at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Hospital in Sydney and one of the three oncology trainees who developed the app. “It could also improve patient outcomes by helping them to cope with the impact of the diagnosis and comply with their treatments.”
Conveying information to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer is a major challenge for many medical practitioners.
“Patients are often too anxious to register what their doctor is saying, particularly as the information can be quite complex and unfamiliar,” says Dr Pooviah. “CancerAid allows them to voice record consultations, so they can go over them again in their own time and discuss what they were told with their family and carers.”
The app also makes it easy for doctors to provide their patients with personalised information such as recommended treatments, possible side effects and the best ways to respond to any symptoms.
“Having accurate facts and trustworthy advice at their fingertips helps patients to feel less anxious and confused and to manage their expectations,” says Dr Pooviah. “All of the information provided through the app is from Cancer Council Australia or the New South Wales Cancer Institute, so it’s consistent, reliable and peer reviewed.”
Doctors can also spend less time searching for relevant information,
“That gives them more time to focus on their patients’ needs during consultations,” says Dr Pooviah.
A way to keep information organised
Cancer patients need to carry around a great deal of information. CancerAid’s Journey Organiser can help by keeping most of it in one place – it stores everything from medical records, medication history and details of any allergies to test results and scan reports.
“It can also store and organise future appointment times,” says Dr Pooviah. “And, as some patients become very anxious and depressed before their consultations, we are working with psychologists and psychiatrists to develop strategies that will help them to cope.”
Patients can easily share their profile via the app with people they have nominated as ‘champions’ – friends, relatives, carers and clinicians they can turn to for help and support. Patients also have the option of creating a blog to record their experiences in text, video or audio, which can be kept private or shown to their champions or shared more widely through the Facebook-moderated CancerAid community.
“This will build into a supportive network of people who are going through similar experiences,” says Dr Pooviah.
Added benefits for medical professionals
A dynamic referral portal was designed specifically for general practitioners (GPs) to streamline the referral process.
“The app makes it easier for GPs to find the right specialists for each patient and then save even more time by making referrals electronically,” says Dr Pooviah.
There will also be opportunities for cancer institutions, private cancer specialists and research organisations to benefit from the real-time capture of patient data.
“In the case of a patient satisfaction survey, for example, the app can replace the laborious process of questioning individuals, keying in the results and mining the data manually,” says Dr Pooviah.
Meeting a long-term need
Dr Pooviah and co-founders Dr Raghav Murali-Ganesh and Dr Akshat Saxena developed the app in conjunction with over 100 cancer specialists and 20 cancer charities as well as patients in their own hospitals. They also worked closely with Papercloud, a digital product development studio that places a strong emphasis on usability.
“Our goal has always been to provide genuine long-term benefits for both patients and medical practitioners,” says Dr Pooviah. “We’re very research focused so we’ll keep on using research to ensure the app is continuously evolving in line with our users’ preferences and needs.”
Two versions of CancerAid for iPhone and Android devices will have their official launch in July 2016.
“The free version will include the cancer information component along with information about screening and prevention,” says Dr Pooviah. “The premium version, which adds the Journey Organiser, will cost the patient about $3 a year – and we’re happy to subsidise anyone who can’t afford that.”