High cost of treatment, in addition to limited reimbursement, can limit ongoing support services for patients in post-treatment settings, despite quality of life (QoL) being considered important to positive health outcomes after treatments. The lack of such support was discussed in terms of hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) by Connie E. Chen, MD, Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, CA, on Sunday, December 4, at the 58th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition in San Diego, CA. 

Chen and colleagues noted that technology may be of benefit for post-treatment support. “Smartphone devices offer a novel means by which to offer low-cost, longitudinal support through the use of virtual health coaches,” they said, pointing out the lack of research on the efficacy and acceptance of using these devices for patients with malignant diseases after HSCT.

Researchers recruited 62 patients—median age of 56 years and mostly male (59%)—to enroll in digital health coaching; patients were recruited in the outpatient setting at the stem cell transplant clinic at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Participants downloaded a smartphone application (Vida Health), which allowed them to communicate in real time with a health coach through live video, phone, or text messages. 

“Coaches provided health education, offered ongoing encouragement, and helped patients set small weekly goals to enhance nutrition, physical activity, stress management, and medication adherence,” Chen said. Patients, at baseline and three-month follow-up, completed the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–Bone Marrow Transplant (FACT-BMT) survey. 

Patients identified several primary goals in using the application.

  • Optimizing nutrition (72%)
  • Stress management and emotional support (60%)
  • Remembering to take medications (60%)
  • Improving sleep (45%)
  • Staying physically active (20%)

A majority of patients (68%) sent at least one message to a coach with an average of 29 messages sent from patient to coach during the three-month coaching period. 

The authors found that FACT-BMT scores improved greatly following the use of the application, with a 27% improvement in physical well-being and a 53% improvement in functional well-being. Emotional well-being also rose by 40%. 

“These preliminary findings suggest digital health coaching may help patients post-HSCT improve QoL, particularly among physical, functional, and emotional domains,” Chen said. “We believe that utilizing novel tools such as smartphone-enabled health coaching may offer an important means by which to continue to support patients’ well-being outside of the clinic.”