From 1950 to 2012, average life expectancy rose from 48 to roughly 70 years. Advancements in technology and medicine have made that impressive increase possible. Cancer is the price us humans pay for living longer.
Last year, my team at Havas Health partnered with a major player in the oncology space to design a website and companion app for Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. Dov and Jonathan handled research, user experience design, and prototyping, and I tackled user experience design, visual design, and the conversational interface of the application. Another team based in Boston tackled the challenges of the site.
When we looked at research for our patient group, we noticed that many of them reported what’s known as scan anxiety or scanxiety. Their mood between scans fluctuated significantly, adding to the already strenuous journey a patient goes through during treatment. Part of our focus was to reduce scanxiety by connecting patients to a network of other patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals.
We also learned that cancer patients who received palliative care lived longer than patients who just received regular treatment. Palliative care actively promotes healthier physical and mental health in addition to a patient’s normal treatment regiment.
Additional Reading:Study Confirms Benefits of Early Palliative Care for Advanced Cancer
We determined the app would have 4 main experiences– Treatment Plan: a way for patients and healthcare professionals to monitor treatment milestones; Symptom Tracker: track everyday feelings and potential adverse events and deliver them to your HCP; Palliative Care Network: resources to help patients live healthier and happier; Support Groups: helping patients connect to other patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals.
Building a calendar into the app wasn't our goal because we weren't looking to replace patient's current personal calendar system (whether it be an app or a physical calendar). However, we did feel it was useful to link a patient’s personal and treatment milestones together in one digestable timeline. Treatment milestones were then tied directly back to other experiences within the app. For example, if a patient had an upcoming scan, the app would prompt them to schedule an appointment with their mental health professional to help cope with the stress related to this scan.
For patients with shorter life expectancies, the treatment plan focused less on treatment and more on personal milestones. It could be used to coordinate important upcoming events in a linear format, whether it be personal (like a family vacation) or logisitcal end-of-life planning. That being said, end-of-life planning was not a case we deeply investigated. For patients with smaller support circles, it might be a useful experience to incorporate later.
The symptom tracking component of the app was by far the most challenging aspect of this project. We decided to create a conversational experience so patients could be immediately notified if their inputs were signs of potential adverse events. Built in Dialogflow, the tracker would pick up on specific keywords or phrases within the patient’s language and alert them if any inputs matched to an adverse event.
Building the symptom tracker as a chatbot also meant that healthcare professionals wouldn’t be responsible for monitoring every single patient input. If it were built as a direct healthcare professional-to-patient messaging tool, healthcare professionals would be legally responsible for any advice given to the patient. Since each patient is on a different treatment course and schedule, the adverse event detection would be tailored by the healthcare professional during the onboarding process.
Based on our insights into palliative care, we felt features that improved a patient's health and wellness should make up a significant portion of the in-app experience. In fact, all of the other experiences mentioned earlier can be linked back to palliative care in some way. Palliative care exists in limited markets, mainly in densely populated urban areas, so we felt it was necessary to make it accessible to other patients.
Patients could either connect to a palliative care specialist to coordinate their treatment, or use the app to create their own team of health and wellness professionals. Psychologists, nutritionists, personal trainers- anyone a patient might need to live better. The app also includes functionality to notify the patient's pallative care network for all major treatment milestones, like scans, so that they could proactively reach out to their patient before and after the milestone was reached.
Cancer patients tend to have wide support nets- a byproduct of the disease’s significant affect on our lives. However, these support groups are typically separated from their treatment. They live on social media networks, particularly Facebook, and can’t be monitored by a healthcare professional. We wanted patients to stay connected to an in-app support group, so we create a unique experience to engage with their network.
For inspiration, I looked to other successful products like "Be My Eyes", where visually impaired individuals can call-in help from someone else. The support group gives patients the option to call or message with someone in the app’s network regarding their situation. We found that patients don’t always want to reach out to close family or friends for help. For example, a patient who has just received a negative prognosis from their scan may feel more comfortable calling another patient who has been through that experience before speaking with their family.
I worked on this project as a member of Havas Health's digital outcomes lab. Since the larger team is made up of roughly 20 members, some of the details from the case above have changed as the app has moved into development.
Many thanks to Dov, Jonathan, Bam, Todd, Chris, Dennis, and the rest of the lab on working together so seamlessly. I'm grateful for this opportunity and others to come through the outcomes lab.
My name is Tyler Hancock. I'm a user experience designer and front-end developer based in New York. Currently available for fulltime, freelance, or to grab a firstname.lastname@example.org