Stephenson developing app for cancer patients during COVID-19

Published: Thursday, May 14, 2020 By: Journal Record Staff Source: The Journal Record

An oncologist and a mobile health researcher at Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine are creating an app that will monitor the well-being of patients with cancer during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The National Cancer Institute funded a grant for the rapid creation of the app and a study on its effectiveness. Stephenson Cancer Center plans to enroll 500 patients who are receiving chemotherapy for their cancer. During the study, which will last six months to a year, the app will prompt patients to answer daily questions that assess their health and their risk for having newly contracted COVID-19.

“Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy have reduced infection-fighting capabilities and, if they contract COVID-19, they are at higher risk of developing severe and life-threatening complications,” said Katherine Moxley, a gynecologic oncologist at Stephenson and co-principal investigator for the study. “We are trying to create a mechanism for early identification of coronavirus symptoms and worsening disease.”

The app is being created at the Oklahoma Tobacco Resource Center, a program of Stephenson Cancer Center. The OTRC’s Mobile Health Shared Resource creates innovative apps designed to improve health and well-being.

Michael Businelle, co-director of the OTRC and co-principal investigator for the study, said the new app will use decision logic in its interaction with patients. Based on patients’ answers to several questions, such as whether they have a cough or fever, the algorithm will determine if their health is at risk and automatically link them to services and resources.

Every morning, a patient’s smartphone will buzz or ring to start the questions. If the app determines the patient may be at risk of having COVID-19, he or she will be referred for immediate testing. Follow-up questions will help to determine whether the patient needs symptom management at home, outpatient medical assessment or inpatient evaluation with aggressive symptom management. The app will also send an encrypted email to Stephenson Cancer Center nursing staff members, who can help when the patient needs information or medical support. In addition, patients can use the app at any other time of the day or night to contact a health care professional to report symptoms or concerns.

“Symptom Tracker is basically a symptom management app, and we see this study as a prelude to future management of cancer patients in general,” Businelle said. “Instead of patients having to drive a long distance for an exam or follow-up, they can answer questions on the app and, if needed, do a telemedicine visit. The next level of care would be to come in to see their doctor.”

Cancer care at Stephenson has not slowed much during the COVID-19 pandemic, Moxley said. Patients must

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