THE BLOG

Not Just Another App

03/11/2015 06:20 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015

Much of the world tuned in this week to see the highly heralded unveiling of the Apple Watch. But another, less anticipated Apple announcement has generated a great deal of excitement and may in fact be an even more transformative tool -- launching a new era for breast cancer patients.

The Share the Journey app, part of Apple's ResearchKit, has the potential to make possible truly patient-centric cancer research and medical care -- advancing our understanding of treatment responses and redefining the doctor-patient relationship. Share the Journey will allow breast cancer patients to chronicle their experience with a variety of post-treatment symptoms and side effects that can impact a woman's daily and long-term quality of life as well as her survival. Researchers will collect and study the anonymous records of thousands of women with and without breast cancer using this app to find patterns of symptoms, such as memory, mood, cognitive function, fatigue, and activity level to better understand and ultimately improve breast cancer care. A better understanding of the everyday side effects of antiestrogen therapy, for example, may help improve adherence and prognosis.

Breastcancer.org, along with other advocacy partners, is supporting this important research effort, and we encourage women to participate by downloading the app. My colleague, Dr. Judith Salerno of Susan G. Komen, has written eloquently about the details of this study and its importance in helping women live full and fulfilling lives beyond breast cancer.

While the future promise of this research is incredibly exciting, Share the Journey also has a critical role to play today in reshaping the doctor-patient relationship for the good of patient care. Traditionally, that relationship has been unbalanced, with physicians possessing all the intel and answers and imparting it to their patients. Doctors have knowledge and expertise that most patients do not, but as the keepers of her body and behaviors, a patient's unique experience and the information she can relay to her physician is essential to informing the best medical decisions. Unfortunately, that two-way conversation doesn't happen as often as it should for a variety of reasons, including scarce physician's time and a patient's difficulty to fully record and communicate her experience since her last doctor visit. This is where technologies such as Share the Journey can make a real difference: by moving that doctor-patient conversation from a monologue to a real dialogue and forming a partnership between the two.

Share the Journey allows patients to track and document how they're doing on a day-to-day basis -- what makes their symptoms better or worse. Not only can this app help a physician by providing an accurate patient record, it also engages women as active participants in their own care. By closely monitoring her own health, a patient may discover patterns that allow her to make necessary changes in behaviors and activities that can help her feel better, improve her quality of life, and extend survival.

In any relationship, the person with the most at stake should also feel the most empowered to act in her own best interest. It is at the core of what Breastcancer.org does -- putting knowledge and tools in the hands of breast cancer patients. The time and technologies are right for evolving the doctor-patient relationship and encouraging every woman to move from a passive "patient" role to an engaged partner in her treatment plan and overall journey. Share the Journey can help us do that.