Emojis: A new way to assess cancer patients' quality of life

Using emojis, as opposed to traditional emotional scales, helped in assessing cancer patients' physical, emotional and overall quality of life, according to a recent Mayo Clinic study.

Researchers gathered data from 115 patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma at Mayo Clinic who had life expectancies of five years or fewer and who owned an iPhone 5 or later.

Upon enrollment, all participants received an Apple Watch and downloaded a study app. Researchers then collected baseline data, which included questions on patients' physical function, fatigue, sleep, social role, function and quality of life.

To measure patients' quality of life, researchers developed two electronic emoji scales. The emojis serve as a simpler, more universal way for patients to express how they are feeling on a given day. These symbols can also reach a more diverse group of patients, such as those with low health literacy, said Carrie Thompson, MD, the study's lead author and hematologist at Mayo Clinic.

Gauging a patient's quality of life and their ability to perform certain activities without help can be difficult because it typically involves lengthy questionnaires, which can be a burden for patients and might not be accurate, Dr. Thompson continued.

"In our study, we wanted to determine if wearable technology data could be correlated with traditional, validated patient-reported outcome measures in cancer patients," Dr. Thompson said.

Researchers found that patients favored using iPhones and Apple Watches and the use of technology helped collect data accurately and efficiently. The study used Apple's ResearchKit framework and showed that the Apple Watch helps provide objective, continuous data that links to existing cancer patient-reported outcomes.

"In the future, it may be possible to monitor patient symptoms and communicate with patients between appointments via wearable technology," Dr. Thompson added.

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