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UC Davis nursing school hopes to improve care for cancer patients with social network

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) Several chemotherapy patients at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center will be invited to use tablets with a unique social networking tool as part of their treatment plan. Researchers at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis hope to prove that mobile health technology improves the care experience for patients as well as the quality of care while also reducing cost.

The project is part of a two-year, $199,854 grant from the McKesson Foundation and its national Mobilizing for Health Initiative. Research on mobile health technology in cancer care is new, said Jill Joseph, the associate dean for research at the nursing school. Other cancer-related mobile applications are available, but are limited to education and awareness and don't provide disease management tools or real-time communication.

"We have ample evidence that cancer patients often receive fragmented care, experience significant distress, and may needlessly require care in emergency departments or inpatient settings, particularly during chemotherapy," Joseph said. "Little research and development has focused on providing novel technologies to support cancer care coordination."

Participating patients will use a tablet device, such as a Google Nexus or iPad, to connect to their unique and private Personal Health Network that includes a nurse coordinator who manages the their care along with family, caregivers, clinicians and other desired partners. These people can connect with one another through real-time messaging, video and audio components as well as schedule appointments, assign tasks, store and track information and more.

A nurse coordinator is assigned to support each chemotherapy patient who uses the mobile application. This coordinator monitors the patient's care plan, triages issues and communicates with caregivers. Unlike electronic health records and other information systems common in hospitals, the social networking platform allows patients, their families and caregivers to not only access information but communicate with another and make decisions about care and health management.

"This is a new tool designed with the patient and family at the center of care," said Katherine Kim, a recent doctoral graduate of the UC Davis nursing school who is now a visiting faculty member and project director.

For example, a chemotherapy patient might message her nurse coordinator that she's not doing well that day, and feels nauseous and anxious. The nurse can then communicate with the patient to further assess the situation, communicate with other caregivers, and work with the patient to address the issues or take other steps such as reschedule appointments or review current medications.

Developed by private technology partner Tiatros, the social networking platform is different from other social media sites, like Facebook and LinkedIn, because it complies with health privacy laws and operates securely.

"I'm excited about bringing nursing research into the Cancer Center. I'm especially excited for our patients to have an opportunity to be part of this project," said Kerri Stuart, a nurse manager at the Cancer Center. "Learning you have cancer is overwhelming and the thought of chemotherapy is often terrifying. This is a tool that empowers patients and provides access to information when they need it, not just when the clinic is open."

Research team members will interview patients after they have used the program for six months to determine how their health, the delivery of care and their need for emergency or inpatient care was affected. The team includes nursing faculty from the School of Nursing as well as oncology nurses, social workers, and physicians from the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study is the first funded project resulting from the development of the UC Davis Collaborative Cancer Care Research Group, a multidisciplinary team of experts who hope to develop technology-enabled solutions that improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of cancer care.


Contact: Jenny Carrick
University of California - Davis Health System

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