Symptom Tracking Via Smartphones and Fitbits May Improve Cancer Care


Smartphones and fitness trackers could serve an unmet need when it comes to valuable patient-reported symptoms, improving long-term monitoring of people who are going through cancer treatment.

Smartphones and wearable fitness trackers may have the potential to shape cancer care by providing health care providers real-time feedback of potential worsening of symptoms, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

The study, whose findings were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, provided Android smartphones and Fitbit fitness trackers to 14 patients with gastrointestinal cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Throughout the four-week duration of the study, the phones used a framework called AWARE that tracked behaviors such as the numbers of calls and texts sent or received, apps used and movement. Fitbits also helped to track activity levels and sleeping patterns.

Additionally, everyday patients rated the severity of a dozen treatment-related effects, such as fatigue and nausea. Days were classified in to three groups: higher-than-average burden, average burden or low burden. When used within a newly developed algorithm, researchers were able to predict, with 88 percent accuracy, the correlation between the mobile device data and daily symptom burden.

“We found that on days when the patients reported worse-than-average symptoms, they tended to spend more time being sedentary, moved the phone more slowly and spent more minutes using apps on the phone,” lead author Carissa Low, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a release.

While this particular study was small, researchers are looking forward to conducting future follow-up studies to see if a similar technique can be used to track complications after somebody undergoes surgery for cancer. Also, the team is working with health care providers to better understand and plan how the data can be integrated into clinical care.

Study authors wrote that smartphones and fitness trackers could serve an unmet need when it comes to valuable patient-reported symptoms. While long-term monitoring of these factors is important in cancer care, as time passes, patients tend to become significantly less compliant, the authors said. Further, such an intervention may be easier to implement, with about 77 percent of American adults reporting that they own a smartphone.

“Collecting these objective behavioral measures from smartphone sensors requires no additional effort from patients, and they could prove beneficial for long-term monitoring of those undergoing arduous cancer treatments or those with chronic illnesses,” Low said.

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