There’s An App for That: Smartphone Apps for Oncology Patients

by Amy Smith (as part of her Green Oncology series)

The Patient Issue

Approximately 50% of Canadians are smart phone users, with the fastest growing population of users between the ages of 55-64 years old.  More oncology patients will be turning to technology, including smart phone applications (apps), to assist them through treatments due to the ease of use and extensive availability (more than 7000 health apps are currently available).  Understandably technology can be both an exciting and frightening endeavor for both patients and health care providers.  However providing guidance on the use and limitations of apps can further assist patients. 

The Rx Advice

When considering patient focused smart phone apps, there are clearly some good, bad, and ugly aspects of app technology to consider. 

The Good

Apps are readily available and easy to use.  For those patients like myself, your smart phone become like a first-born child.  You can buy it new clothes and dress it up in a pretty case and of course it never leaves your sight.  Patients often have their phone with them at all times, making it an effective way to keep an accurate schedule and an easy reference for information. 

Because of the ease of use, a smart phone can act as an additional support structure and reduce patient anxiety by providing quick answers to oncology questions.  And best of all, many apps are completely free.     

The Bad

Now before we start downloading the latest apps, let’s consider some of the drawbacks to patient focused apps.  With no regulation of information (similar to information available on the internet) we do need to be cautious about which apps to recommend.  It is difficult to determine if a health care professional was involved with the development of an app. 

Only about 1/3 of health apps involve health care professionals in their development.   About 1/2 of oncology apps contain referenced data.  Information provided to patients may be inaccurate providing patients with a false sense of security.  Although many health apps are free, there may be a charge and the price of an app fluctuates based on popularity, which can make the cost unpredictable.   

The Ugly

It’s true that there is some bad information out there but some apps can provide information to patients which might result in harm.  An app developed to diagnose suspicious dermatological moles misdiagnosed approximately 1/3 of moles.  This is a much higher error rate than dermatologists who misdiagnose approximately 2% of moles.  That is a scary statistic.  Not all skin cancer focused apps are dangerous however.  The UMSkinCheck app allows patient to photographically track changes in moles and sends reminders to review moles for any changes.  Patients can therefore safely know when to seek expert advice.  

Despite the potential for incorrect or dangerous information on medical apps, there are some apps, which can be an excellent resource for tech savvy oncology patients.  Cancer.net is an ASCO approved free app reviewed by medical oncologists.  Cancer.net provides an overview of each cancer diagnosis and acts as an electronic diary for patients to record questions and answers, medication information, and track symptoms. It is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices - find it here

Scan the code below with your mobile device to be taken directly to the respective app store.

The Bottom Line

Similar to most information available on the Internet, the information provided on smart phone apps can be unreliable, invalidated, and at times dangerous to patients. 

If you ensure patients have access to validated apps developed by health care providers, smart phone apps can provide excellent support and information to oncology patients.       

Want to check out more patient focused oncology apps?  See below:

Share your experience with apps and apps you recommend in the comments section below or on our members only forum.