Person holding phone with app image
New app serves as one-stop-shop for information on a child’s entire course of treatment.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s have launched a new mobile app that serves as a one-stop shop for parents of children with cancer. The app, currently being tested as part of a clinical trial, gathers data from the electronic health record and integrates it with information on appointments, care teams, medical terms, medications and more. 

Parents of children newly diagnosed with cancer carry a heavy burden. While still reeling from news of a diagnosis, they must quickly learn complex medical terms and procedures, meet sprawling care teams, manage frequent appointments and track test results. The mobile app is designed to lighten their load, serving as a comprehensive source of information on a child’s entire course of treatment.

A Team Effort

Ahna Pai, PhD and Keith Marsolo, PhD are the lead Cincinnati Children’s researchers teaming up to develop the new mobile app as part of Pai’s Illness Management and Parent Adjustment to Cancer Treatment (IMPACT) study.

Pai and her team, including registered nurse Caroline Morrison, were looking for a mobile platform to deliver a new behavioral health intervention they were testing and wanted to add in features that would be useful to parents. They came up with the idea of the new application and contacted Marsolo and his Biomedical Informatics team to see what could be developed.

Together, they worked to transform the 4-inch-thick binder of documents that parents typically receive upon diagnosis into a mobile app that also connects to the electronic health record in real time. 

The IMPACT app incorporates current lab results, medications and care team information as well as background materials, definitions of medical terms and explanations of common procedures and treatments. It offers a calendar function to keep track of the child’s upcoming appointments by integrating directly with their MyChart account. Parents can also note questions within the app for future discussion.

Image of phone with mobile app
The app is the first to blend study data with data from the electronic health record in real time.

The app also incorporates a behavioral health intervention that Pai created to help parents and other caregivers manage the stress and uncertainty around a cancer diagnosis through the use of medically-specific communication, information management and problem-solving skills.

App Development

While Pai’s team interviewed parents, caregivers and providers to determine what would be helpful to include in a new app, Marsolo’s team began exploring possible technology platforms.

This paper offers technical details on the creation of the app. The development team, which included Billy Shuman and Jeremy Nix, had to break new ground in designing a way to import real-time data from the patient’s medical record. They succeeded in blending study data and EHR data in real time, making IMPACT the first mobile application at Children’s to do so. They leveraged authentication and authorization protocols so parents could sign on with their current MyChart username and password, simplifying the log-in process.

In response to parent requests that the technology work across all platforms, they chose the Java Enterprise Edition (EE) version 7 stack for the application development. This technology, not typically used for mobile applications, allows full-text searching and maintains a responsive user interface, allowing a traditional website to function more like a native application. The IMPACT app operates on iOS, Android operating systems and a desktop or laptop.

University of Cincinnati design students working through the Livewell Collaborative helped Marsolo’s team by creating the user interface and user experience for the app.

Pai’s team, along with co-investigator Larry L. Mullins, PhD at Oklahoma State University, is currently testing the efficacy of IMPACT through a National Institutes of Health-funded study. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center are recruiting study participants.

New Mobile App Lightens the Load for Parents of Cancer Patients
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