ONC turns over care compass to patients

ONC pilot turns care compass over to cancer patientsPhoto used with permission from Shutterstock.com

Encouraging easier access to medical histories and treatment records is just one perk of MyJourney Compass, a $1.7 million project funded by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT and designed to help patients navigate the complex cancer treatment process and become more involved in their healthcare decisions.

Based in Rome, Ga., the project is one of 10 challenge grants awarded by ONC across the country, and is one of only two focusing on healthcare consumers. It is operated through the Georgia Department of Community Health and managed by health information specialists at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"This really has the potential for making people’s lives better through education and knowledge, which empowers people," Phil Lamson, a healthcare consultant with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, said in a news release. "Using MyJourney Compass, patients can have more direct communication with their providers on the common symptoms that often accompany this disease."

The pilot launched Aug. 12. It resulted from collaboration that includes two hospitals, a doctor’s group and cancer support organizations in Rome. Rome was chosen for the national pilot, Lamson said, because the community had already come together to fight cancer. Collaboration among the community’s healthcare providers made it easier to launch.

MyJourney Compass represents the merger of coordinated community cancer care with technology. Rome already had a coordinated, integrated and centralized cancer care system that helps patients navigate networks of doctors and treatment options. The program’s hardware technology – inexpensive Nexus 7 tablet computers connected to a secure network – helps patients communicate with healthcare providers, access their health information and obtain credible information on the Internet.

A symptom tracker application developed at Georgia Tech and loaded on each tablet allows patients to provide frequent feedback to healthcare providers when necessary. For a patient prescribed a new pain medication, for example, the app may ask for updates several times a day to help the doctor judge whether the drug is doing what’s needed.

"Doctors know what they need to track, and when the patients report in periodically, there can be an intervention early if there is some deviation from what’s expected," Lamson explained. "If more frequent communication between scheduled appointments prevents a trip to the emergency room or admission to the hospital, that’s a big benefit for everybody."

"Everyone is amazed at the level of cooperation in our community," said Gena Agnew, president of the Northwest Georgia Regional Cancer Coalition, in a statement. "Here we have a private physician’s clinic with a standalone cancer center, a private and public hospital, a group of patient navigators and the NWGRCC. The cooperation is so well known that we were the first community considered for participation in this."

Collaborators in Rome include Floyd Medical Center, the Redmond Regional Medical Center, the Harbin Clinic, Cancer Navigators and the NWGRCC. At the state level, the project involves the Georgia Department of Community Health and Georgia Tech. Within Georgia Tech, the project includes specialists from the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech Research Institute, College of Computing, and Institute for People and Technology.

MyJourney Compass uses established technology to provide electronic access to patient records, which are housed in Microsoft’s secure online HealthVault service. Secure email is provided through GeorgiaDirect, a service provided as part of the Georgia Health Information Network operated by DCH. Georgia Tech’s Interoperability and Integration Innovation Lab developed the symptom tracker app.

So far, 25 patients have signed up to use the system, and Lamson hopes as many as 100 breast cancer patients will be using the information exchange once the program is in full swing. Georgia Tech will be evaluating the patient outcomes and studying patient satisfaction.

The team implementing MyJourney Compass expects the project will demonstrate new ways of leveraging technology in healthcare and be applicable to treatment of other types of disease, including chronic health problems, hypertension and diabetes.

"The MyJourney Compass project is empowering patients to become actively engaged in their care, an important requirement of our consumer-focused State HIE Challenge Grants," Kory Mertz, challenge grant program manager at ONC, said when announcing the pilot. "The work in Rome will serve as a model to other patients, providers and communities across the country on leveraging health information technology to engage patients in their care."

Photo used with permission from Shutterstock.com