Online tool puts cancer patients at the center of their care

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A web-based tool designed for clinical collaboration has been shown to be useful in facilitating care management communication between patients with advanced cancer and their clinicians.

The internally developed platform, called Loop, was put to the test in a feasibility randomized controlled trial at Sinai Health System’s Temmy Latner Center for Palliative Care in Toronto and the University of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Center.

Loop, a secure online tool, enables patients and caregivers to communicate asynchronously with multiple members of the care team including physicians, nurses and allied health professionals. Specifically, it connects patients and caregivers to providers in a virtual space where communication can be facilitated outside of appointments and across care settings.

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Results of the feasibility trial involving 24 advanced-stage cancer patients, recruited to both the intervention and control arms, and their care teams were recently published in the Journal for Medical Internet Research. The study found that it was feasible to implement Loop in clinical practice and that the tool may have the potential to improve continuity of care.

“We conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial in a population of patients with advanced cancer, as prototypical of a population with complex care needs,” write the authors. “Our objective was to evaluate the feasibility of integrating a tool like Loop into current care processes and to capture preliminary measures of the effect of Loop on continuity of care, quality of care, symptom distress, and healthcare utilization.”

“It’s not about the diagnosis of the patient—it’s much more about patients with complex care needs that would benefit from an intervention like this,” says Amna Husain, MD, project leader at the Temmy Latner Center for Palliative Care.

The idea behind Loop is to put patients at the center of their care, making them an integral member of their care team with better access to information, according to Husain. To facilitate this engagement, the platform was developed with an intuitive, easy-to-use web interface to enable messaging between patient, providers and caregivers on a desktop computer or mobile device after logging in with an email address and password, she notes.

Loop is a communication tool meant to connect people across organizations, teams and disciplines, Husain adds. However, she is quick to add that messages can only be read and posted by care team members using the tool if they are involved in a patient’s care.

“The messages are threaded in conversations and can be searched using various filters,” states the JMIR article. “In addition to posting messages, users may label posts with user-defined ‘tags’ and an ‘Attention To’ feature that specifies individuals to be alerted to a post by a generic email.”

The study found that participants in the trial were able to understand and use the core functionality of Loop, namely to post and read messages.

“We further observed that patients viewed their Loop more often than they posted, compared with healthcare providers, who posted nearly as often as they viewed a Loop,” conclude the authors. “This could be interpreted as showing that patients were more proactive tool users, while healthcare providers are more likely to wait for notifications before logging in.”

Overall, researchers found that use of the platform suggests that “some coordination tasks were improved but further strategies to build collaboration among team members may be needed.”

“The power of a communication tool is when you’re able to enable collaboration across a team, rather than just one-on-one communication between a patient and provider or a provider and another provider,” adds Husain, who says a larger follow-up study for Loop is planned.

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