Alberta Cancer Foundation

There’s an App for That: At-Home Patient Care

Illustration by Glenn Harvey

Progress in post-operative cancer care could begin with the use of a smartphone app.

Typically, patients who go home from the hospital after surgery will travel back to see a doctor should anything concerning arise while they heal. But a trip to the doctor isn’t always the most effective choice for patients or health care professionals, as these visits are sometimes unnecessary for the patients, and medical staff are already dealing with hectic schedules.

In response to this, a clinical trial called “A Protocol for Mobile App Postoperative Home Monitoring after Enhanced Recovery Oncologic Surgery,” which began in September 2018 and is funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation, is looking at the effectiveness of an app concept called Recover Well, which allows post-surgical patients to receive direct follow-up care from their doctor simply by checking in on their smartphone or tablet.

Led by Dr. Claire Temple-Oberle, a surgeon at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, and coordinated by Carmen Webb, a research coordinator at the Tom Baker, the study is monitoring 72 patients who will undergo either gynecologic oncology surgery, mastectomy alone, or mastectomy with breast reconstruction during its two-year period. Half the patients are utilizing Recover Well, while the remaining undergo traditional follow-up measures in order to compare outcomes like patient satisfaction and number of hospital visits. All of the study’s participants will be treated according to Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocol, a method of best practices for health care workers to ensure that pre, during and post-operative care for a patient is at the highest quality and is the most efficient.

Recover Well is designed so that the patient at home can check in on health indicators like their pain level, how they slept, how much they’re eating and any other concerns (including the option to send a photo), with that information going directly to a doctor and support staff for review. Check-in prompts happen daily for the first two weeks post-surgery, and weekly for the following four.

“One challenge with the earlier hospital discharge that naturally flows from ERAS protocols is the reduced number of days of in-hospital contact between the patient and the health care team,” says Temple-Oberle. “This smartphone app adds an additional layer of care, setting the patient’s and surgeon’s mind at ease that all is well during recovery.”

The hope is that the virtual visits facilitated with the app will prove to not only streamline and improve patient-doctor interaction, but also help identify potential complications for a patient earlier on.

“This will allow the patient to be assessed safely, from the comfort of their own home. The surgeon will be able to review the patient’s case outside of traditional clinic hours, allowing more flexibility for both the patient and the surgeon, leading to more timely access to care,” says Dr. Gregg Nelson, an associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary and a co-investigator in the study. “I see this technology as being extremely beneficial to patients, especially as we continue to iterate toward improvement in patient-centred models of care.”