CHICAGO – A web-based tool that allows patients to report their symptoms in real-time can help them live longer, according to a study by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
“Using a web-based symptom reporting system that alerts the care team about problems leads to actions that alleviate suffering and improve patient outcomes,” said Dr. Ethan M. Basch, lead study author, in a statement.
A randomized clinical trial of 766 patients with metastatic cancer who used the tool to regularly report symptoms while receiving chemotherapy lived a median of five months longer than those who did not use the tool, the study showed.
“Patients receiving chemotherapy often have severe symptoms, but doctors and nurses are unaware of these symptoms up to half of the time,” said Basch.
An earlier report from the same study showed that use of the tool was associated with better quality of life and fewer visits to the emergency room and hospitalizations. Compared to patients who received usual care, patients who used web-based symptom monitoring were also able to tolerate chemotherapy longer.
“The improvement in survival we saw may seem modest, but it is greater than the effect of many targeted cancer drugs for metastatic cancer,” said Basch.
The patients were randomly assigned to report their symptoms via tablet computers (intervention group) or to a group whose symptoms were monitored and documented by clinicians, as is usual care. In the usual care group, patients discussed symptoms during visits with oncologists. They were also encouraged to telephone the office between visits if any concerning symptoms arose.
Patients could report the symptoms remotely from home or at the doctor’s office during oncology or chemotherapy visits, using tablet computers or computer kiosks. Doctors received symptom reports during visits and nurses received email alerts when patients reported severe or worsening symptoms.
Nurses took immediate clinical actions more than three-quarters of the time when patients reported severe or worsening symptoms. Compared to patients who received usual care, patients who used the web tool to self-report symptoms had a longer median overall survival (31.2 months vs. 26 months).
The study findings are being confirmed in a larger clinical trial, which uses an updated, more user-friendly online tool that works on both personal computers and mobile devices. The study is being conducted in community practices across the United States.
“Symptom management is a central part of what oncology care teams do,” said Basch, who noted that this study supports broader use of online tools in routine practice to enable patients to communicate symptoms to the care team in real time.