A new prostate cancer app by AstraZeneca demonstrates the need for the further development of technology to help patients manage their own healthcare at home.
Recently, AstraZeneca launched a free Prostate Assistant app, their first mobile application aimed at patients not doctors, to monitor Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) levels. These levels can only be inputted into and monitored on a patient’s digital device after a doctor has conducted the PSA blood test. Patients can then visually track their levels through a graph. In addition, this app provides the patient with a variety of information on prostate cancer as well as tools to manage medical appointments, directly email and call GP’s and hospitals and record notes.
In a way, this app does keep the patient better informed about their illness as they can view and track their PSA levels, which are part of their medical records. These records can help them understand more about their illness which in turn could help a doctor provide them with better advice on living with their illness. E-Patient Dave, who survived stage IV kidney cancer, believes that health IT, like the PSA levels data, can improve care as this minimises the risk of medical errors. He states that mistakes happen when doctors do not provide patients with the necessary information about their illness. Furthermore, this app aims to further improve the doctor-patient relationship as patients have access to a doctor’s advice and help at any moment that they choose. The app can also aid patient recall of conversations with doctors through allowing the recording of notes although there is another free cancer app that already does this.
However, this Prostate Assistant app only reinforces the pressure on doctors which is something that the healthcare industry is constantly trying to steer away from as our population continues to live longer. Unlike the recent iBGStar for diabetic patients, the Prostate assistant does not allow the patients to test themselves at home. Patients do not have more control over their disease as PSA levels have to be taken at a doctor’s office.
Although patients can monitor their progress after the initial PSA test, they would still be inclined to visit or email the doctor in order to further understand the developments in their illness. In addition, if you continue to visit the doctor on a regular basis, you would not need the app to manage medical appointments as you could book your next appointment in person. Moreover, if patients have a digital device, they can gain access to a range of information on prostate cancer by browsing the internet without the need for this app. So, this app continues to fuel the dependency on doctors as the patient might be informed but is not empowered to take control of their healthcare.
AstraZeneca’s initial attempt to create an informed patient can be useful for the pharmaceutical industry as it shows that more healthcare technology needs to be developed for use at the patient’s home rather than the doctor’s surgery. If patients were able to test themselves through a cancer app that offered a simpler mechanism than the PSA test, they could be empowered to control their levels without regular visits to the doctor. It would also be useful if an app could be programmed to recommend simple diet and lifestyle choices to main quality of life for the patient in relation to the stage of their illness. This means that patients can prescribe a holistic treatment for their illness which would enable them to continue living their lives they had before diagnosis.
Although there are many apps to improve patient-centred care through enhancing the doctor-patient relationship, the healthcare industry needs to understand that it is patients themselves who can manage and improve their own quality of health at home. While the Prostate Assistant app is useful in allowing patients access to their own medical information, they were not responsible for getting this information and so are just a second party, in addition to their doctors, who will monitor this information. No amount of data will help doctors understand patients better as there are many tests and devices that can never capture the patient as a whole. Healthcare IT can be used to create a more empowered patient who can finally make sure that the healthcare industry works for and not against them.
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