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Mobile Health in Cancer Care: A New Solution or a Potential Risk?

Yuan, Changrong PhD, RN

doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000000125
DEPARTMENT: Guest Editorial

Editorial Board Member, Cancer Nursing, and School of Nursing, Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, ChinaThe author has no funding or conflicts of interest to disclose.

The amazingly rapid development of information science and technology in recent years is changing what we do and, perhaps, who we are. With the help of mobile technology, the traditional conception of distance, space, timing, strangers, culture boundaries, communication, and relationships is being redefined. People of diverse backgrounds are excited about the benefit and convenience seemingly brought by these technologies and have welcomed them into different parts of their life areas quickly, including their health and healthcare.

Mobile health (M-Health), which is defined by the World Health Organization as medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as telephones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants, and other wireless devices,1 influences the world’s medical care in unprecedented speed and scope. By adding this technology to healthcare systems, M-Health empowers users by their having ready access to health information and healthcare services anytime and anywhere. In particular, it seems a helpful addition to the health management of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, psychological diseases, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and importantly, cancer. Considering the complexity, dynamics, persistence, and multiphrases of cancer treatment, M-Health has already been found to positively affect certain outcomes of care and has demonstrated adaptability of use.

However, is M-Health really a solution for cancer care? Yes, every elaborately edited text message will include information needed by patients to avoid mistakes in the next scheduled course of chemotherapy. Yes, M-Health can provide service for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from thousands of miles away. Even more notable, there is the “social robot” being created to comfort vulnerable persons. But here is the caution for cancer care: Can this kind of mobile communication meet and satisfy patients’ needs of being cared for in real-world circumstances during their high-risk period of life? With the help of a machine, does our complex human caring, sympathy, and empathy become a standardized use of words that is programmable? No more eye contact, no understanding nod, no gentle hug, and no silent moment of touching a hand. Our learned truth is, sometimes, we are not able to get each other’s full attention while being together because we are too busy on our separate mobile phones.

Certainly, there is cause for us to embrace the new era of M-Health because it does allow nurses and other care providers to help patients who are experiencing cancer to improve the varied components of their health. What we need to do is to maintain a clear mind when facing the challenge of how to take advantage of M-Health and make it an important resource for healthcare systems. For example, we need to give very careful attention to selecting the target diseases and the target groups (patients, caregivers, family members, and others) for engagement of M-Health for health management. In addition, more refined and fitting intervention tools and intervention programs related to M-Health need to be well designed, implemented with care, and monitored for outcomes. By far, the most important consideration is the relationship between the well, ill, and recovering humans and M-Health. We see the advantages and disadvantages of M-Health and its potential to improve the quality of cancer care in real time. We place our expectation on technology to make life while experiencing cancer better, but we cannot forget that life itself is always more than technology.

My best to you,

–Changrong Yuan, PhD, RN

Editorial Board Member,

Cancer Nursing, and School of Nursing,

Second Military Medical University,

Shanghai, China

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1. World Health Organization. Global Observatory for eHealth Series. Volume 3. June 7, 2011. Accessed November 18, 2013.
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