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OU amid coronavirus: OU Stephenson Cancer Center team creates app to monitor cancer patients' health

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An oncologist and a mobile health researcher at OU Medicine’s Stephenson Cancer Center are creating an app that will monitor cancer patients’ health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to an OU Medicine press release, Katherine Moxley, a gynecologic oncologist at Stephenson Cancer Center, and Michael Businelle, co-director of the Oklahoma Tobacco Resource Center, designed the app to ask patients daily questions that assess their health and risk for having newly contracted COVID-19. 

According to the release, a patient’s smartphone will buzz or ring with questions from the app every morning. Once the patient completes the questions, if the app determines they may have contracted COVID-19, they will be referred for immediate testing. 

Follow-up questions from the app will help determine whether the patient needs symptom management at home, outpatient medical assessment or inpatient evaluation with aggressive symptom management, according to the release. The app will also send an encrypted email to Stephenson Cancer Center nursing staff, who can provide the patient with information or medical support. 

According to the release, patients can also use the app at any time to report symptoms or express concerns to a healthcare professional. 

“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.”

The National Cancer Institute funded a grant to expedite the creation of the app, as well as create a study on the app’s effectiveness, which could last from six months to a year, according to the release. Stephenson Cancer Center plans to enroll 500 patients who are receiving chemotherapy as cancer treatment. 

The app is being created at the Oklahoma Tobacco Resource Center, and the center’s Mobile Health Shared Resource creates “innovative apps designed to improve health and well-being,” according to the release. In addition to the National Cancer Institute’s funding of the study, the Mobile Health Shared Resource is supported by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

Stephenson Cancer Center is collaborating with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in New Hampshire and Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in New Jersey, according to the release. All three are National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Centers. 

Moxley said in the release that cancer treatment at Stephenson Cancer Center has not slowed much, and cancer patients still need care despite added risks brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. She said Stephenson Cancer Center strives to provide patients with a safe environment, which means adequate COVID-19 screening and testing. 

“I think the real-time symptom tracking enabled by this app will offer peace of mind to both patients and their oncologists,” Moxley said. “My patients and their family members are extremely anxious about their overall health and exposure risk right now. This app will give them a 24-hour lifeline that is applicable not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but also, in the future, to monitor and report significant side effects of chemotherapy. This is a valuable safety tool, especially for patients who live in rural Oklahoma and can’t easily travel to Stephenson Cancer Center or OU Medical Center for evaluation.”

The study will begin enrolling patients in about a month, according to the release, and patients receiving chemotherapy at Stephenson Cancer Center can contact their physician about joining the study.

Ari Fife is the OU Daily summer editor-in-chief and a sophomore journalism major minoring in international studies and political science. Previously, she served as a senior news reporter and was an SGA beat reporter.

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