Can Emojis help Cancer Patients Report Symptoms?

A study found that the use of emojis to express patient-reported outcomes (PROs) for cancer correlated well to traditional PRO assessments.

Emoji Study Design

Between February and August 2017, researchers enrolled 296 adult patients diagnosed within the past five years with lymphoma, myeloma, brain, pancreatic, breast, and ovarian cancer. Patients had a life expectancy of more than six months and owned an iPhone 5.0 or newer. All participants received an Apple Watch and were randomized into three groups for mode of survey response: paper, iPhone, and Watch.

Weekly survey response rates were 60% in the Watch group, 76% in the paper group, and 77% in iPhone group. There was a strong association between the emoji ordinal scale and linear analog self-assessments: -0.80 for fatigue, 0.70 for physical well-being, 0.68 for emotional well-being, and 0.75 for overall quality of life (P<0.001 for all). Response rates decreased overtime for all patients.

“The scale works really well, and that’s one of the things we wanted to determine was, is this a valid scale,” said study author Carrie Thompson, MD, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic. “Is this something that is scientifically proven to say what we think patients are trying to say? And we found that it did, and it works very, very well.”

Emoji Results

The researchers concluded that collecting PROs via mobile technology is feasible, Apple Watch activity data is significantly associated with PROs, and emoji scales are a promising tool.

“Medicine has gotten so complicated,” said Thompson. “So to have something that’s simple that breaks down the barriers of communication, healthy literacy, language, financial status – we all know emojis. We all know what various faces mean.”

During the presentation, neuro-oncologist Martin J. Taphoorn, MD, of Haaglanden Medical Center, The Hague, the Netherlands, said that greater awareness of how patients are doing could not only have a meaningful impact on doctor-patient relations but “increase health-related quality of life” and “even help survival.” Using modern technology to facilitate these conversations, he said, is “very important, because we know that people may find it difficult to answer so many questions.”

Thompson’s team successfully proved “a positive association between the activity of the patients in terms of a better functioning and symptoms in these patients,” Taphoorn added.


Source: ASCO