Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell Tech Collaborate on Study of Mobile Tech on Colorectal Surgery Outcomes

April 21, 2016

Mobile technology continues to expand its role in the daily lives of billions of people worldwide. The range of innovative applications for technology such as smartphones and tablet computers has likewise expanded, including into the realm of healthcare. Surgeons and researchers from the Section of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine have teamed up with Cornell Tech to discover if using a mobile health app can help improve surgical outcomes.

A pilot study, led by Dr. Heather Yeo and developed under advisement from Dr. Deborah Estrin, Director of Cornell’s Tech Campus Health Tech Hub, aims to determine if mobile apps can be useful to a colorectal surgical practice. Data and experience gathered from the study may also help determine utility of these apps for early intervention, as well as unique strategies for implementing these apps. Dr. Yeo cites the high rate of readmission for older adults undergoing colon and rectal resection (Readmission rates can be as high as 30%, ¾ of which may be preventable) as a cardinal reason for exploring mobile tech as a part of recovery. Lowering readmissions can improve outcomes while also reducing burden and cost to the health system.

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PAM –Photographic Affect Meter

“For many patients, readmission may be preventable if we can identify abnormal findings or pain early, we might be able to evaluate patients earlier and intervene,” said Dr. Yeo. “For older patients in particular who may have trouble seeing their wound, or remembering how much they need to drink, this is an opportunity to improve care.”

In the pilot study sponsored by the CADC and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, qualifying patients who undergo a colorectal procedure download an app to their smartphone or tablet. Patients also are given a wearable fitness tracking device to capture some of the required metrics. For four weeks after the surgery, patients provide physicians with qualitative and quantitative data regarding their recovery. Demographic and quality of life data is also secured from the patients, plus regular photos.

Data from the surveys and fitness trackers are both collected by the research team and reviewed by the patient’s surgeon over the course of the study, with patients instructed to contact their providers if metrics appear abnormal. Both the patient and the provider are asked for feedback after completion of the study to ascertain usefulness and possible improvements to the app.

The pilot is currently underway at NYP/Weill Cornell, with results set to be published in 2016. Pending the pilot’s findings and refinement of the app, Dr. Yeo plans to follow up with a larger, multicenter study. With a strong response rate from patients enrolled in the study, the pilot looks capable of providing clear direction for future research on the integration of mobile applications as a component of patient care.

“It’s amazing how empowering this is for patients,” said Dr. Yeo. “They feel more involved in their own care and recovery and are interested in how they are progressing.”