MyJourney Compass: The Next Generation

A pilot program to help cancer patients navigate the cancer treatment process is receiving national attention and more funding.

During the first year of the MyJourney Compass program, breast cancer patients at the Harbin Clinic in Rome, Georgia received tablet computers on which they could access their medical histories, treatment records and breast cancer information, plus track their symptoms.

“What we did as part of that first year project is study this notion of the cancer journey,” said IPaT Executive Director Beth Mynatt, who is also the program’s principal investigator. “And the question for us is, how would you design a computer that would adapt or change as the person progresses through different phases of their journey?”

The first year of the program was a success, with a high adoption rate and few technical barriers.

“We have a great 80-year old cancer survivor now who never used a tablet computer before, but is one of our power users,” said Mynatt.

Patients used the tablets for more than just medical information; they also downloaded social media, religious applications, and games. Angry Birds was a favorite. Patients expressed the desire of not wanting to be defined by their cancer diagnosis.

“So instead of it just being a healthcare application and only about cancer, it allowed them to be who they wanted to be, and I think that was a huge boon to our adoption.”

Healthcare providers are also excited about the program.

“They have a better sense of what their patients are struggling with,” said Mynatt. “If we can give a more realistic portrayal of what the patients are going through, then they can tailor the care or pay attention to those barriers or problems.”

Designing a personal, adaptive tool is the goal of the latest phase of MyJourney Compass. The program recently received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to design the next generation of the tablets. Over the next four years, Georgia Tech researchers will continue prototyping and testing tablets that can anticipate a patient's needs and prepare them for things like surgery and chemotherapy.

Beyond the NIH grant, Georgia Tech’s Interoperability & Integration Innovation Lab (I3L) is expanding the scope of the program. They’re partnering with Athens Regional Medical Center on another breast cancer project, and have worked with Cartersville Medical Center to develop tools for patients with head and neck cancer.

“When we start getting into things like head and neck cancer, it’s a much rarer disease but much more difficult to manage,” said I3L's Phil Lamson.

The tools for these patients allow them to track additional symptoms like throat and mouth pain, weight, and nutrition.

“It’s a way to keep in touch on information that’s important for the management of the disease - and especially its symptoms - between visits so that the patients can communicate that with their physicians.”

MyJourney Compass has also received national attention. Last month, Mynatt traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend a workshop hosted by the President’s Cancer Panel, which develops and executes the National Cancer Program.

“They’re looking at us as one of the models for how you put patients in control and engaged with their own care.”