App for prostate cancer patients undergoing hormone therapy
Developed by a team led by urologist Jim Duthie, the adt app is designed to provide timely information and reminders about health checks and blood tests throughout the lengthy treatment, and is also aimed at helping general practitioners caring for men with advanced prostate cancer to understand and help better manage the disease and its side-effects.
Australian Prostate Cancer Research CEO James Garland said the app was designed specifically as an information and support mechanism. It includes prompts throughout the therapy timeline to remind men to have blood tests or other health checks, with an explanation of why they need to.
It also includes information on side-effects such as sexual dysfunction and incontinence and the emotional problems that accompany them.
“The key to having an app working with men over the age of 60 and having advanced prostate cancer, is that it needs to be extremely simple to use,” Mr Garland said.
“When men go through prostate cancer treatment and their prostate cancer recurs, they will often go on to a hormone therapy. When they go on to that therapy, it is an extremely difficult one with a lot of side-effects – it is a very difficult stage of the disease and there are a lot of questions to be answered.”
The app has been created to provide answers to those questions as they arise, meaning men don't have to keep going back to their doctor each time, he said.
“Perhaps the most important thing is that when men are on hormone therapy, it is critical that at specific time points, they are getting follow-up tests. There's no point being on a treatment that doesn't work and some people fail these drug treatments – it works for some men and it doesn't work for others.
“Considering they are going through these treatments which have some pretty difficult side-effects, what we want to do is make sure men have a scheduled reminder, that periodically at three months, six months and 12 months they get a push notification through to the phone that they are set for a blood test, and you need to have this test because of XYZ.”
Mr Garland said when men download the app, they are instructed to set the start of their treatment date and the app will then begin to prompt them with reminders and accompanying information.
“Once you set the start of the treatment date, the health checks you need are pretty generic for all of these treatments,” he said. “You say 'I started treatment on the first of February 2013', and then it does the rest in feeding you the information at the right time.”
He said the app would be particularly useful for men living in rural areas who don't have regular access to a urologist. It is also designed to be helpful to GPs, who according to research released last year are quite open about the fact that they are not confident in dealing with the side-effects of prostate cancer.
The survey of GPs found that 70 per cent believe prostate cancer testing guidelines are unclear, one in three don't refer to any guidelines when testing for prostate cancer, 88 per cent of GPs are not confident in managing sexual rehabilitation post-treatment, and 80 per cent are not confident dealing with continence problems post-treatment.
“There are only about 380 urologists in Australia so a man living in a rural area is probably likely to be seeing his GP or a support nurse who can administer the treatment,” Mr Garland said. “A lot of these men will also be on clinical trials so they are probably receiving treatment from a research nurse at an institution or a hospital.
“We hope that using this app for prostate cancer is a clinician-led process as much as it's a patient-led process. If clinicians know about this, we would hope they would use it as a free tool to help enhance their practice.
“A clinician has to be skilled in a whole range of things, but to know how to administer effective hormone treatment or to deal with post-surgical sexual rehabilitation for men in their sixties, is tough. We would hope that the information we are producing will enhance clinical practice, and they can certainly get in touch with us and we can refer them to the collaborators involved in this.”
The app is available for free and is suitable for men throughout the world. Since its release last month, it has been downloaded by people in about 20 different countries, Mr Garland said.
Plans are underway to develop the app for other platforms, although that is reliant on further funding, Mr Garland said, and Australian Prostate Cancer Research is currently working on several different eHealth technologies for prostate cancer care.
“This is the first mainstream app we've released so we are keen to trial it with a couple of clinicians first before we push it far and wide,” he said.
“We know there is some information contained in there that is subject to differing opinions amongst clinicians, so we have some specialists in the field that are currently doing that for us and cross-checking it with patient experience just to double-check and refine it. Then we'd love to push it further.”
Posted in Allied Health