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Apple Watch to be tested as a breast cancer support tool

One of the country’s most renowned cancer care hospitals is turning to Apple Watch to help those with breast cancer deal with behavioral health issues.apple-health-watch

The MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, a partnership between the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and New Jersey-based Cooper University Healthcare, is partnering with Polaris Health Directions to equip some 30 breast cancer patients with the new smartwatches. The watches will include a specially designed app that links to Polaris’ Polestar behavioral health outcomes management (BHOM) platform, enabling both patients and providers to track behavioral data that could help refine their treatment regimens.

Cori McMahon, PsyD, director of behavioral medicine at MD Anderson Cooper, said she might see a breast cancer patient once a week in her office, or while they’re in the middle of their chemotherapy treatment every two weeks. They’re stressed and not remembering all that happened during the past week or two, she said, making it difficult for her to treat their behavioral health issues.

Giving them a watch that can track certain health and wellness data and which gives them an instant link to guidance, their providers and other patients in the program “is incredibly exciting,” she said.

“We’re going to be teaching people about their own behaviors,” said Tina Harralson, PhD, Polaris Health’s science director. “The watch will be engaging with them both actively and passively. … If the person isn’t moving, we can even detect that and push out a glance message.”

McMahon said the pilot project will look to reach patients at two critical phases – right after they’ve been diagnosed, when they’re “in survivorship phase” and trying not to be overwhelmed, and after they’ve completed treatment, when they’re apt to feel anxious or depressed and not understand why. By capturing information in real time on activity, moods and sleep levels, she said, providers will be able to work with the patients to better understand and cope with their behavioral issues.

“For the first time, we can identify detrimental behaviors in real time,” he said. “That’s what you can do with a wearable that you can’t do with anything else.”

Polaris Health will underwrite the Apple Watch Sport 38mm models with pink straps for each of the 30 patients in the pilot and will develop the app, to be made available on Apple’s HealthKit platform (Redlus said future projects may make use of the ResearchKit platform). The project will be reviewed and approved by the Cooper Institutional Review Board, and MD Anderson Cooper will select the patients and oversee their treatment in the pilot.

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