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Traditionally, innovations in technology have improved the lives of patients indirectly, aiding researchers, physicians and surgeons firsthand with more efficient means of discovery, equipment, and more. Now, with the rise of mobile apps, technology is putting the power in patients’ pockets, allowing them to take a much more active and informed role in their treatment plans.
Similar to popular health trackers and their synced apps, there are many apps available to patients suffering from a number of serious health conditions, including mesothelioma.
For example, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) has an iPhone app that provides information on how to avoid asbestos exposure and receive mesothelioma treatment. According to Linda Reinstein, ADAO president and cofounder, "We do not make medical referrals, [but] the app provides easy access to information, including a list of 25 hospitals in ten states that we've compiled over the past ten years, where specialized treatment for mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases is offered."
In December of last year, The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF), in partnership with Open Health Network (OHN), launched their free Lung Cancer Foundation app, which includes the ALCF’s patient handbook, information on Community Hospital Centers of Excellence, a glossary of lung cancer terms and additional educational information for patients, caregivers, and families regarding diagnosis, care and treatment. The app can also track data and connect patients to clinical trials and genomic testing.
Use of these kinds of consumer apps, however, are regulated solely by the downloader, whereas a budding sector of mobile health apps are becoming more specialized and available only with a prescription, available exclusively to patients.
A New Kind of Prescription
These newer apps are being developed by hospitals directly, and they are available exclusively through a prescription and supervised by a doctor to help patients with specific issues including recovering from surgery and managing cancer-related pain. They also function as another way to communicate vital patient information and updates back to doctors between visits. The main goal is to incentivize and motivate patients to integrate these specialized apps into their routines more so than other generic health apps available for download.
In addition to helping patients manage cancer treatment, apps are being researched and trialed for helping patients follow HIV medication protocols, manage symptoms for conditions like IBS and asthma, manage blood-thinner medication, oral chemotherapy regimens and cancer pain, and maintain heart health following a cardiovascular condition. Functions of these apps include the following:
- Sending educational messages and important reminders
- Providing detailed instructions for things like managing symptoms
- Alerting physicians to developing issues
- Refilling medications
One example of these kinds of prescriptive apps is ePal, a cancer pain management app developed by Partners HealthCare in Boston, which includes Massachusetts General Hospital. The app helps patients stay on their medication schedule, address symptoms like nausea, feel supported via videos and messages, request medication refills, and keep a daily diary of notes. According to Mihir Kamdar, associate director of palliative care and director of Mass General’s cancer pain clinic, “[By having] more points of contact in between visits [via apps like ePal], we can see who might be developing pain at a crisis level, control it better and keep them out of the hospital.”
Other apps already in use or in development include the University of Michigan’s Breast Cancer Ally app, their skin cancer app that helps patients monitor suspicious moles, and Women’s College Hospital in Toronto’s app for breast-reconstruction patients.
These innovative mobile applications are changing the patient experience and revolutionizing the patient-doctor relationship. Patients are given tools that allow them to actively engage in their own care on a daily basis, stay on their treatment track, receive instant feedback, and maintain constant communication with their physician which can mean the difference between a proactive change in treatment or an emergency room visit.