By Dr Raghav Murali-Ganesh
A cancer diagnosis is a jarring experience; following a diagnosis it is common to feel anxious and scared. There is often little time to process the shock and suddenness of it all before having to make decisions about what course of treatment to take. In the months following the initial diagnosis, most patients find it difficult to absorb and retain information with so much going on.
As young oncologists working in a Sydney cancer hospital, my colleague Dr. Nikhil Pooviah and I observed first-hand that patients who had the best information systems and support networks in place had better outcomes. People who came in with family members and a ring binder – that sort of system in place with a support mechanism – anecdotally tended to do better, and we were able to prescribe more treatment and they were able to tolerate and manage their side effects better.
I used to give patients a piece of paper and ask them to write down all the medications they take, and whenever they have pain, put it on their fridge and use it as a diary. I asked them to bring that information with them to every appointment. From those notes, I could see whether I needed to change a patient’s medication or if they needed extra support at home.
This sparked the idea for an app that harnesses smartphone technology to help people fight cancer by tracking their symptoms, emotions and treatments, and helping them stay connected to family, friends, their care team, and a global community. Just a few years later, the free CancerAid app is helping to improve the lives of more than 25,000 patients in 53 countries.
Because Dr. Pooviah and I, and many of the CancerAid team members, have a medical background, our goal is to always make sure that the patient’s experience is front and center.
With CancerAid, patients can log cancer- or treatment-related symptoms and conditions within the app from anywhere – from their home, in the waiting room, while receiving chemotherapy – making it a “low-friction” task.
The app also allows patients to access personalized, medically reliable information about cancer; track symptoms, feelings and appointments in a journal; nominate friends and family members to support; and access a news feed with information and supportive advice and a community of fellow patients and their caregivers.
We’ve noticed that patients and caregivers really like connecting with others going through similar experiences. Instead of just hearing from the doctors and nurses about how they should feel, hearing from others about what they’ve experienced and how they dealt with it is very powerful.
One of the most beneficial elements of CancerAid is that the app can integrate into a patient’s electronic medical records at the hospital where they are treated, allowing cancer care teams to view symptom diaries in real time and enabling clinicians to provide better quality care.
It is important for us to act on feedback coming from our users and the community. We always welcome ideas and suggestions as to how we can improve this technology, and I believe we’re just on the surface of where the technology is and where we can go with it. For example, one potential addition is incorporating wearable technology that can track pulse and temperature, which for patients on chemotherapy who have compromised immune systems can indicate the first sign of infection.
While I miss working as an oncologist with patients, the upside now is that I have the ability to reach thousands of patients, rather than tens or hundreds of patients so I’m quite privileged in that way, and very lucky to be able to do that.
To download and try the app, click here.