May 9, 2015 | by Valerie Nelson
Many City of Hope cancer patients are opening their hearts to an electronic confidante. The tablet-based program, called SupportScreen, prompts them to share deeply personal concerns about their health — and helps jump-start their care.
“We’ve found that people will reveal more to a machine than to a person. Technology provides distance and seems to make it easier for them to ask for assistance,” said Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., the Liliane Elkins Endowed Professor in Supportive Care Programs, and co-creator of SupportScreen.
Developed at City of Hope, the touch-screen application asks patients a wide range of questions that address physical and psychosocial concerns common to their diagnosis. Sample questions include, “Are you worried about pain?” “Do you need help with an advance directive?” “Do you want clergy support?” The moment a patient completes the questionnaire, an appropriate member of their health care team is alerted by email. If a patient has requested written information on a topic, educational information prints out at a nearby station and is quickly handed over.
Screen time with positive impact
City of Hope has already proved the usefulness of such an approach. Last year, more than 3,500 City of Hope patients tap-tap-tapped their way through the screening tool’s prompts. Once the system has been rolled out across additional surgical clinics this year, that number is expected to rise above 6,000 annually, said Annette Mercurio, M.P.H., M.C.H.E.S., director of programs for the Department of Supportive Care Medicine.
Four other institutions have adopted the screening tool, licensed by City of Hope. From the start, the program has been available in English and Spanish, since an estimated 20 percent of City of Hope’s patients speak Spanish. Thanks to a generous contribution from longtime City of Hope supporters Robert and Susan Lim, the SupportScreen interface will be translated into Chinese next.
“Translation of SupportScreen reflects City of Hope’s commitment to serving our diverse community. Supportive care is partnering with the Center for International Medicine to proactively address the psychosocial and practical needs of our Chinese patients,” Mercurio said.
A child-friendly rendition called PedsScreen is already being tested. Aimed at children ages 6 to 10, it asks practical questions such as, “Do you have pain?” to elicit information that children might hide because they are afraid of a needle. A variation aimed at parents of pediatric patients is also in the works.
A new direction
SupportScreen's influence doesn't stop with the existing technology.
In April, the National Cancer Institute awarded a 39-month, $1.7 million Small Business Innovation Research grant to City of Hope and the company BrightOutcome to develop a support system that can be used by health care institutions and health plans. The grant will fund a project designed to promote internal resilience, self-efficacy and independence among cancer patients, and can be used by the patients themselves, friends and family, their care and support teams, and community support resources.
Known as PatientCareAnywhere, the system will be based on both SupportScreen from City of Hope and MyCaringCircle from BrightOutcome, which share many common goals and are complementary in their approaches.
The need is real.
“We are giving patients of every age more of a voice,” Loscalzo said of SupportScreen itself. “This is a real clinical tool that enables us to coordinate and communicate, and our patients feel heard and understood.”
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.