Relying on smartphone sensors and an algorithm, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center have developed a smartphone app for remotely monitoring the symptoms of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

The app, which is described in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, can work with most smartphones and monitors the symptoms and side effects of the treatment in real-time by detecting changes in a patient's behavior. This early detection, according to researchers, is likely to prevent unnecessary hospital and physician visits while improving the patient's quality of life.

In a test of the app, 14 cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for gastrointestinal cancer were given smartphones to carry with them for four weeks. During that period, researchers collected data on the behavior patterns of the patient through the number of calls they made, the number of texts they sent and received, the apps used and the location and movements of the phone.

Additionally, patients were tasked with rating the severity of the symptoms they experienced each day. Symptoms such as nausea and fatigue were measured in terms of how they impacted the patient's day, with categories to describe that day's symptoms as either "higher-than-average burden," "average burden," or "low burden."

Using the data collected from the smartphones, researchers then developed an algorithm identifying and correlating — with an 88 percent rate accuracy — the patient's "high-symptom," "average-symptom" and "low-symptom" days.

"We found that on days when the patients reported worse-than-average symptoms, they tended to spend more time being sedentary, moved the phone more slowly, and spent more minutes using apps on the phone," said Carissa Low, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, and lead author of the study. "Collecting these objective behavioral measures from smartphone sensors requires no additional effort from patients, and they could prove beneficial for long-term monitoring of those undergoing arduous cancer treatments or those with other chronic illnesses."

For more information on the app, click here.

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