Health Tech Matters

How one app is helping to tighten the link between cancer patients and their doctors

Waverly Colville, special to
Key Points
  • Health care is becoming a major focus for tech giants like Amazon and Apple, and joins an increasingly crowded field of biometric tech.
  • ChemoWave helps cancer patients and their doctors keep track of a variety of biometric data.
  • A recent study suggests a link between data tracking and survival rates.
ChemoWave mobile application
Source: ChemoWave

When chemotherapy patient Allison Hailey meets with Dr. Angela Kueck at Texas Oncology in Austin, she comes prepared.

That is because Hailey's phone displays graphs, charts and logs of her medications, mood changes and physical health — courtesy of an app called ChemoWave.

Since its launch on June 29, ChemoWave is giving chemotherapy patients and their doctors more insight on treatment plans, side effects and mental health. The app arrives on the scene at a time when health care is becoming a major focus for tech giants like Amazon and Apple, and joins an increasingly crowded field of biometric tech that helps people track vital health information.

ChemoWave is designed to help track a wide variety of vital data like symptoms, exercise, water intake and medications. It then compiles those figures into a health compliance database, then graphs the information so patients — and their doctors — can connect what symptoms are related to what medication or activity.

Patients can also send daily updates to their doctors, which can be critical when treating cancer. A recent study by the Journal of the American Medicine Association found a 21 percent increase in survival time for patients who tracked and reported their symptoms. Thirty-one percent were more likely to report better quality of life and physical functions, the study said.

"I have a better understanding as opposed to when I see [Hailey] every couple weeks in the office with her trying to remember what side effects she had on what day," Kueck told CNBC. "You can see trends over time, so we can plan for her next cycle" of chemo, she added. "It improved communication and we're connected more."

ChemoWave mobile application
Source: ChemoWave

When cancer hits home

Matt Lashey, the developer of the app and co-founder of Treatment Technologies & Insights, came up with ChemoWave when his partner Richard Grenell was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

Each morning, Lashey would administer Grenell a survey about how he was feeling emotionally and physically, along with any side effects. Lashey's background in data analysis propelled him to do some correlation analysis from the surveys to track Grenell's symptoms.

"I started doing some simple correlation analysis to see what things were related to his highs and lows, and our doctor loved (the charts)," the former research consultant for Discovery Communications and Nationwide Insurance told CNBC. "We could point to very specific days when something had occurred, and having those graphs and data really led to a lot more efficient collaboration with him."

ChemoWave features an added benefit, according to Kueck: helping to improve communication between patient and doctor.

"I might see a patient every three weeks, and when trying to recount what happened on day two or four, it's hard for them to remember so it does take a lot of time of the visit," Kueck said. Using the app, she now gets daily updates.

Kueck said there haven't been any widely used apps among her patients, and ChemoWave is fulfilling a large need among those involved in chemotherapy.

"I'm already in the loop. We can just talk about today and the future. It's definitely streamlined the visits in the office," she said.

ChemoWave is free to download, in order to get it as widely disseminated as possible, according to Lashey. He's also meeting with care organizations, doctors and pharmaceutical companies to explore future partnerships and possible financing.

"There could be a lot of money to be made if we were to charge money for this app, but we decided that the real value is in the data," Lashey said.

"The hope is that getting it into the hands of patients will start to add value to their life on an immediate basis, and that if we can stick with this and we can get the app with funding that we need, there's going to be money to be made in the future," he added.

Grenell is now healthy and sees his doctor regularly, while Hailey said she plans on using the app throughout her treatment.

"It does exactly what it's supposed to do, and it provides even more information for a patient to have some control over what what's going on with us," she said.