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Digital app transforms health care for cancer patients in Nova Scotia

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Smartphone with Noona App open

By: Matt Lumley

 

A new online app will empower cancer care patients in Nova Scotia to take a more active role in their treatment journey. The app – called Noona, developed by Varian Medical Systems, gives registered Cancer Care Program patients remote access to appointment schedules, reminders, and schedule changes.

Kat McTaggart, one of the first patients in Nova Scotia to use the app, said: “I can’t speak for everybody, but when you’re going through radiation, even if it’s preventative, you’re probably going through some stuff. Your mind isn’t as clear as it could be. But the app confirms what I’m doing. It’s very specific; it’ll say: ‘radiation therapy treatment at the VG site.’ The address, the floor, the phone number, the appointment time. It’s just really, really easy.”

Real-time connection and support

As Noona is enhanced over the coming months, patients will also be able to report their symptoms from home using their phone, tablet, or desktop, giving people more time to reflect on their answers. Those reported symptoms will be discussed during the patient’s next visit with their cancer care team, who in turn can make more informed recommendations about their care.

“Usually, I’ll have a weekly check-in with a nurse practitioner or doctor to review my symptoms, and they can see what I’ve entered in the app,” said McTaggart, who used the app as part of a radiation oncology pilot. “I found that very useful coming out of medical treatment. With the hospital, there’s typically paperwork; lots and lots of paperwork. But with the app, you can update your symptoms on a daily basis: ‘How are you feeling today?’ You feel like someone is looking out for you.”

As the app expands, the care team can begin to monitor these symptoms remotely, in real time, and if a patient feels unwell, clinicians can prioritize them for appointments. The app will also offer an educational tool, providing useful information whenever patients need it.

Ask the patient

“The true power of this digital tool is we’ll reach patients from home, between visits, and after treatments, when their side effects are affecting them,” explained Dr. Amanda Caissie, head of Nova Scotia Health’s (NSH) radiation oncology department and medical lead in Noona’s expansion across the province’s entire cancer care program.

“Patients tend to report their symptoms earlier, and they report the ones that are meaningful to them and their quality of life. The research backs this up: Ask the patient. What do they feel? What are they experiencing? How’s it impacting them?”

Historically, patient outcomes or symptoms have been assessed by a member of their cancer care team during a face-to-face interaction, when the patient walks in the door. Their nurse, physician, radiation therapist or other team member takes note of whatever they’re experiencing, e.g., shortness of breath, diarrhea, difficulty concentrating, or other symptoms.

“But that’s the healthcare provider reporting,” Caissie noted, “during a physical encounter, on site.”

Noona also responds to a pressing need to move away from paper-based reporting; that paper may get lost in the shuffle as patients navigate the challenges of their illness, their treatment, and its effects.

As McTaggart pointed out: “[After] radiation, the clinic prints out your schedule; they give you a paper for that. But, oh my goodness, I probably lost that paper twice, at least.”

Caissie reflected: “We need to make healthcare much more patient-centric. And that takes absolute transformation. Digital health solutions will drive this change, allowing us to respond to what matters to patients most, respond sooner, and keep them from getting in an unnecessary line at an emergency room just to talk to someone.”

Full-service portal for patients

The enormous potential of Noona is motivating the Nova Scotia Health (NSH) Innovation Hub team to work with Varian to expand its role even further, building a full-service portal for patients to connect with their clinicians across the NSH Cancer Care Program.

Dr. Gail Tomblin-Murphy, VP of Research, Innovation and Discovery and Chief Nurse Executive at NSH, sees Noona’s potential to place patients in the driver’s seat on their treatment journey.

“This app is moving us to global leaders, at lightning speed. It’ll keep patients connected to their care teams, around the clock,” said Tomblin-Murphy.

“That means better care. It also means knowing you’re getting better care. Both things matter to your health.”