Study: Real-time electronic symptom reporting helps cancer patients live longer

New research shows that reporting symptoms electronically helped cancer patients live longer. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

Promising new research shows that technology can help extend the lives of cancer patients by giving providers real-time updates on treatment symptoms.

Patients that electronically reported chemotherapy symptoms to their provider using a tablet or computer lived five months longer than those that reported symptoms during their monthly checkup with their oncologists, according to a study published over the weekend in JAMA. It’s one of four “clinically significant” studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting on Sunday.

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The authors, from the University of North Carolina, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic, noted that real-time access to patient-reported outcomes helped clinicians adjust dosages and prevent “adverse downstream consequences.” The researchers suggested that managing symptoms may also allow patients to withstand chemotherapy treatment longer.

“We have limited time to see a lot of people as oncologists,” lead author Ethan Basch, an oncologist at Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, told The Washington Post. “But we can harness technology to improve the quality of how we practice and to bring us closer to our patients.”

Despite its limited size and scope, the findings offer new credibility to the value of patient-generated data and the use of technology in cancer care. Last year, several hospitals launched pilot projects funded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to utilize patient-reported data to manage a range of conditions including diabetes.

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It may also point to the value of specific data used in limited patient populations. On a broader scale, physicians are still skeptical of patient-generated data from devices like smartwatches, and patients and providers still face a handful of barriers to making that data meaningful.

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