Researchers study new app for head and neck cancer patients

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A pilot study will test a new digital application, called NorthTrac,  developed by The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research to help head and neck cancer patients manage their post-treatment symptoms. 

Typically there are three types of treatment used for head and neck cancers – radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or surgery. Each of these comes with its own host of post-treatment symptoms and challenges, including dry mouth and sore throat. Dr Sewit Teckie is a radiation oncologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan where she treats many of these patients. Teckie, and her colleague Michael A. Diefenbach professor at the Feinstein Institute, recognized a need for a resource to help head and neck cancer patients so they could have more meaningful discussions with their doctors.

“A head and neck cancer patient who has completed all of her cancer treatment regimen typically sees her doctor every three months. It can be challenging to accurately track and discuss her symptoms and receive advice to relieve those symptoms,” said Teckie, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Medicine and the Feinstein Institute’s Center for Health Innovation and Outcomes Research. “I developed NorthTrac with Feinstein Institute researchers and technologists to not only provide a way for patients to maintain a log of symptoms but also offer immediate informational resources to help combat those symptoms.”

Developed with the Feinstein Institute’s Center for Research Informatics and Innovation, NorthTrac is an app for the iPhone or iPad in which patients answer a series of symptom-based questions – twice a week – rating the severity of these symptoms. If a patient tracks that they’re having an issue with a particular symptom, a window pops up with a list of different self-care tips that can be done at home to help reduce or manage those symptoms. All information tracked is collected and sent to the patient’s medical professional so it can be discussed at their next consult. Beyond the tracking of symptoms, the app is also an information resource for support groups and other organizations dedicated to aiding survivors of head and neck cancer.

The initial pilot study is open only to Northwell Health patients, but Teckie and her team hope to launch the app widely in 2019. If this trial is successful, there is opportunity to adapt the NorthTrac app to help patients living with other cancers and chronic conditions.

“Building an app in-house at the Feinstein Institute opens an important window into technologies we can develop to address other medical needs,” said Dr. Kevin J. Tracey president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute.

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