Prostate Cancer Smartphone Apps
The first guest blog for February is by Jim Duthie, a Urologist in Tauranga, New Zealand. Jim has written two Apps to make it easier for patients to be actively involved in their prostate cancer management. One app helps track PSA over time along with a history of prostate biopsies and treatments. The other greatly helps consolidate treatment for patients who are on ADT (hormone treatment).
For any question, the clichéd answer is now “There’s an App for that”, referring to the ubiquitous mobile applications for smartphones that seem to solve many of our problems, real or imagined. For medical conditions, this is increasingly the case. The “Medical” category is currently the most rapidly growing domain in the Apple App store. You can now download anything from a nomogram for predicting your risk of heart disease, to the somewhat questionable App that can treat whatever ails you by using your iPhone torch as a form of phototherapy. For me, designing mobile Apps was an effective solution for specific problems facing Urology patients.
Androgen Deprivation Therapy App
The process began with a concern that men undertaking Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT) were poorly followed up in terms of the myriad potential side effects that this treatment causes, from bone density to dyslipidaemia, to depression, and hot flushes. It is unclear exactly how many men are receiving ADT, let alone what percentage receive adequate follow up care. As Urologists, we are not experts in managing the complexities of, for example, cardiac risk factors.
Despite best intentions, we also lack the time and expertise to manage depression and cognitive impairment. It makes sense for General Practicioners/Family Physicians (GPs/FPs) to coordinate this follow up, but the physiological effects may seem complex and intimidating for a non-specialist. Perhaps Endocrinologists may be better equipped, but not from the point of view of coordinating patient management, and again a GP/FP usually has a better understanding of psychosocial issues. With this lack of clarity around responsibility it is easy for uncomplaining patients to slip through the cracks. In practice, men receiving ADT may only attract medical attention after suffering a significant complication of their treatment.
To improve this situation, I considered that a centralized ADT database where men are recruited at the time of initiation of therapy, then sent reminders at regular follow up intervals would be ideal, and could additionally provide a bank of men available for clinical trials and retrospective study. Unfortunately, database creation and management is prohibitively expensive, and despite my best efforts such a structure is some way off yet.
I identified the core follow up issue as being getting the right investigations performed at the right time. To achieve this GPs/FPs need to be aware of the necessary tests, and patients informed about when to see their doctor for follow up. The ADT App attempts to achieve this with automated “push notifications” (alerts appearing on the smartphone) when they are due to see their GP, as well as listing recommended investigations according to the elapsed time since commencing treatment. The patient can also read about potential side effects by body system, and follow links for explanations about why the specific tests are required in terms of the physiological effects of androgen deprivation. This is an App aimed at patients, however the intention is that a GP/FP could also have this on their phone as a reference and educational aid.
PSA Manager App
This App addresses a broader group, any man either undertaking prostate cancer treatment or PSA screening. The idea of a “PSA Tracker” is not new. Before the advent of iTunes I encountered a retired accountant who had graphed his PSA over time by hand. An electronic equivalent is easy to achieve, but does it add much to the patient’s care? I thought that an “all in one” manager for prostate cancer screening and treatment would be more useful. The PSA Manager App allows the input of results of prostate biopsies, dates and modalities of treatment for cancer and benign prostate disease including surgery, radiation, and newer novel techniques, and results of imaging investigations such as CT, MRI, or bone scans with a facility for entering a free-text description of the results of these. The data are then presented on a graph with colour-coded markers to represent the timing of the interventions. PSA velocity and doubling time can also be calculated. The intention is to allow men a clear overview of their PSA changes during screening, and if applicable, the evolution and treatment of their prostate cancer.
Identifying barriers to care is an essential part of equitable health delivery, and something I considered at length. The first challenge I identified for men using these Apps, particularly the ADT App, was advanced age. We may think of men on ADT as being elderly, perhaps frail, and probably not expert in using technology. Firstly, this perception ignores the group of men receiving ADT as neoadjuvant/adjuvant treatment for radiation therapy, which constitutes a younger and healthier cohort of men. Secondly, many ADT patients attend clinic with a younger family member, and my experience has been that when I ask if anyone in the family has an iPod, iPad, or iPhone, the answer is usually yes. As long as one tech-savvy person can enter the data, the Apps work well by proxy. In designing the interface, details such as larger buttons to suit male fingers and presbyopic vision were considered.
Finally, any financial cost will constitute a barrier to some patients. The solution was the make the Apps free to download. This meant securing funding which was generously provided by unrestricted grants from Australian Prostate Cancer Research and Ipsen for the ADT and PSA Manager Apps respectively. Although I receive no reimbursement from the development of either App, I believe patients feel more confident in a product provided solely for their benefit, and I can promote the Apps to them and my colleagues with no financial conflict of interest.
Follow this link to download the ADT App
Follow this link to download the PSA App
Jim Duthie is a Urologist at Tauranga, New Zealand with an interest in Urologic Oncology, Robotic Surgery, and Medical Communication. You can follow @JamesDuthie1 on Twitter.