iPad app could make cancer screening as easy as ordering from Amazon

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The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is a real screamer.
Forthcoming iPad app will remind people to regularly screen for cancer.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Researchers have developed an iPad app that makes setting up lifesaving colon cancer screenings “as easy as booking a hotel room online.”

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Early screening can dramatically reduce mortality rates, yet more than one-third of Americans who fall within the most likely age bracket go unscreened every year.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, created the colon cancer screening app to educate patients and simplify the signup process.

“Many barriers contribute to low screening rates, including patients’ negative attitudes about the tests, lack of awareness of the need for screening and competing demands for busy doctors’ scarce time,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. David P. Miller, in a statement. “In the ideal world, a doctor should discuss the need for screening with patients, inform them of the available options, help them make a decision and then order the test. All of this takes time, time doctors may not have if a patient has other concerns that need to be investigated.”

The mPATH-CRC (mobile Patient Technology for Health-CRC) iPad app informs patients of their need for screening, helps them make a screening decision, and then lets them “self-order” a screening test, and sends automated electronic messages to help them complete it.

Colon cancer screening app is a possible game-changer

Unlike some other, more clinically dubious “cancer screening” apps which allow users to snap photos of moles to see if they are cancerous, mPATH-CRC doesn’t do all the work itself. Instead, it’s an educational app which presents information about different types of screening tests — such as colonoscopy and fecal tests — and then allows patients to order the test they want.

Nonetheless, giving medical screening tools the Amazon instant ordering treatment could be a game-changer. In Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s study, researchers enrolled 450 patients in primary care who were due for colon cancer screening. Participants were randomly assigned to use the iPad app or receive usual care, with approximately half in each group.

Those patients who used the app were twice as likely to undergo screening compared to patients in the usual care group (30 percent versus 15 percent, respectively). Half of those who used the app also ordered their own screening.

A study concerning the research was recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. There’s no word yet on when the app will be made available for members of the public.