“There was nothing similar to our app out there and the Charity could really see the importance of it”
I see people either with cancer or without cancer who are at a potential increased risk of an inherited form of the disease. It's about assessing their risk, understanding their family history, and offering genetic testing when appropriate. Once you identify people who are at increased risk, we give them personalised targeted treatments, for example making a therapy regime or listing the surgery options that are available to them.
At that time there was no similar guidance or tools out there. There's been a growing awareness of the importance of genetic risk in cancer. Back in 2013, Angelina Jolie announced that she carried a BRCA1 mutation. That was a real turning point. As a result of that, we saw a doubling of referrals to our genetic service.
The purpose behind the app was signposting initially; giving primary and secondary clinicians an easy, accessible, user-friendly tool that would allow them to identify patients appropriately and refer people to the genetic service.
It has two sections: one is the risk assessment tool, one is a reference guide. The risk assessment tool is a series of short questions. If you have a woman with breast cancer that comes in, you can go down the ‘woman with breast cancer’ decision tree. If you have a person who has a family history of bowel cancer, you go down that decision tree and will get an answer from the app within four or five questions, so it's very quick and easy.
It was fantastic. There were so many ways we wanted to improve patient care and having the infrastructure, support and funding to do it is really difficult to come by. The Charity were the first source of funding that we approached and they agreed straight away, which gave us a lot of confidence in what we were trying to develop. I was running around the department saying, “Yes, we’ve got money for the app!”
We've had so much positive feedback from clinicians and patients. The app has been downloaded more than 6,000 times around the world, and it's had such wide-reaching effects. It’s streamlining the pathway for patients and means that they’re not bouncing from one department to another in terms of referrals. Clinicians know where to refer the patient, and can do so directly from the app. It means patients are getting quicker access to treatments and surveillance if they’re at risk.
I've actually got an idea for another app, which I'll be coming to the Charity with. There’s a real need for patients to take control of their own pathway and management, so I have an idea to help people to track their own genetic journey. If you’re a patient who has a mutation, this is like a diary and resource for them. Now it’s about finding the time to do it.
*This figure was updated from 2,000 in late October 2017
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