Nov. 10, 2015
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U-M launches new app for breast cancer patients
Breast Cancer Ally offers customized, just-in-time info, reminders to patients through all stages of treatment
Newswise — ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Patients being treated for breast cancer at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center now have a new way to help manage the overload of information and reminders that comes with cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
A new first-of-its-kind mobile app called Breast Cancer Ally is available exclusively for University of Michigan patients. The free download creates a customized mobile experience based on the patient’s treatment plan.
“We approached Breast Cancer Ally with a simple concept in mind,” says Michael Sabel, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon who led the app’s development.
“We went to each specialist involved in breast cancer care and asked, ‘If you could have someone follow your patients after they left the office or the hospital, what would you want to remind the patient or encourage the patient to do?’ We then went to our patients and asked them a similar question: ‘What are the things you need after you leave us?’”
For each stage of treatment – including diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – the team identified areas where mobile technology could assist and potentially improve outcomes. This includes educational information about the current treatment. It’s specific to each patient’s individual needs.
For example, patients having surgery to remove axillary lymph nodes in their underarm may have difficulty with shoulder movement afterward. This can be avoided by doing daily shoulder exercises. Currently, patients receive a handout describing the exercises. With the mobile app, patients get a daily reminder as well as instructions. The app can also track their progress.
This was one aspect of Breast Cancer Ally that patient Jacqueline Tonks found particularly helpful.
“The nice thing about this app is that when I turn on my iPhone or iPad, the app appears and reminds me of things to do today. I really like the reminders of what exercises I’m supposed to do, in what order, and how many. It keeps me on track,” says Tonks, 78.
She also used the app to monitor her drainage tubes after surgery. Tonks has just started chemotherapy and plans to continue using Breast Cancer Ally as she progresses through her treatment.
Tracking side effects
Another tool is the toxicity tracker. This can help patients manage the side effects of chemotherapy. The app asks several questions each day about potential side effects and delivers specific information based on the patent’s answers. If the patient reports severe or worsening side effects, the app advises when to call the doctor.
The app continues to deliver notifications and reminders throughout treatment.
The information on the app was developed by and vetted through leading experts in breast cancer care. The app itself was designed by behavioral scientists from the U-M Center for Health Communications Research, who kept in mind the benefits of a smartphone interface, to maximize usability.
“Mobile apps like Breast Cancer Ally provide a unique opportunity to deliver tailored education to patients and assist patients with the recovery and side effects of treatment – improving quality of life not just during treatment, but well into survivorship,” says Sabel, division chief and associate professor of surgical oncology at U-M.
“Mobile technologies provide a unique and outstanding platform to enhance patient-physician communication,” he adds.
The developers are also working to expand the concept to other disease types and to other institutions. Breast Cancer Ally is specific to the care recommendations of University of Michigan physicians.
Because of its customization, Breast Cancer Ally is available only to patients receiving care at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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