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App warning in addressing cancer care backlog

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Almost three quarters of the 3,600+ available cancer patient support apps have not been updated for 18 months; jeopardising their potential role in helping to address the backlog of cancer treatment caused by COVID-19.

That is according to a new report by NHS-partner, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA).

It underlines the pivotal role cancer apps can play in supporting cancer treatment journeys – with 40,000 fewer people in the UK alone starting cancer treatment in 2020 due to the pandemic.

It also warns, however, that patients must be supported by healthcare staff in their choice of apps and be extremely wary of poor-quality tools which could damage their health.

ORCHA’s research shows there are 3,603 apps to support cancer patients in app stores. But 74 per cent have not been updated in the last 18 months.

“This means the vast majority have not kept pace with medical, data or usability guidelines,” ORCHA warns.

Liz Ashall-Payne, former NHS clinician and founding CEO of ORCHA, says: “There are excellent apps supporting cancer patients. These have been developed with clinicians, rigorously reviewed and frequently updated.

“Apps such as these can be embedded into cancer services to provide tremendous support to patients and ease the healthcare system at a time of tremendous backlog.

“For example, BELONG, Beating Cancer Together gives users access to oncologists, radiologists and doctors to answer questions and notifies users of available clinical trials around the world.  Vinehealth Cancer Companion helps patients monitor their symptoms and track their medication.

“We believe there is massive potential for intelligent apps such as these both to help patients and provide excellent returns on investment to the NHS.”

Evidence from Vinehealth suggests that when patients simply track their symptoms and medications effectively, survival can increase by up to 20 per cent.

Another report found that weekly self-reporting of symptoms by patients led to a seven-month increase in survival.

Ashall-Payne adds: “However, there’s a real problem with patients randomly selecting low quality apps from publicly accessible app stores such as Apple and Google Play.”

Among the apps updated within 18 months, ORCHA reviewed 190 of the most downloaded, testing them against more than 350 health standards and measures including elements of the NICE framework.

It found that only 24.7 per cent of the apps reviewed meet minimum quality thresholds.

Ashall-Payne adds: “These statistics are deeply concerning, given how easy it is for vulnerable patients and carers to search app stores and stumble across apps which may give poor or out-dated advice or blatantly misuse their private data.”


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