Robocalls Help Women With Breast Cancer Manage Chemotherapy Side Effects

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Robocalls Help Women With Breast Cancer Manage Chemotherapy Side Effects
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An automated system worked well in helping manage routine chemotherapy side effects in women with metastatic breast cancer, according to research conducted in part at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

One hundred ninety-four women with an average age of 50 were assessed on 15 symptoms ranging from anxiety to fatigue. Half were randomly assigned to an automated system.

Patients received weekly phone calls for the first four weeks, were called during week six and received a final call during week eight. More than 85 percent of the participants completed the study.

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With the automated system, a prerecorded, female voice asked patients about the severity of each symptom. If a symptom reached a certain threshold on a scale of "0" to "10", the voice directed the patient to read that section of an instructional booklet provided by the researchers. The patients were asked at the next contact if the information helped. Patients pressed numbers on their phone keypad to record all responses.

Those with symptoms of moderate severity got help from the automated system for 11 of the 15 symptoms. For those with severe symptoms, the women were helped with about half of the symptoms.

The automated system took less time, about 19 minutes vs. 42 minutes for a phone call with a nurse. It also cost less money because it didn't require time from nurses. The downside of the automated system is that people may not like it.

"What I like about the automated system is that it's available at any time, day or night when a nurse may not be reachable," says cancer specialist David Decker, M.D., who participated in the research. "I think it has its uses for routine side effects, but obviously no automated system is going to pick up on the nuances that a trained nurse with years of experience can."

In addition to anxiety and fatigue, the symptoms assessed included: appetite, constipation, cough, depression, diarrhea, dry mouth, dyspnea (shortness of breath), vomiting, pain, peripheral neuropathy (leg tingling or numbness), memory, sleep disturbance and weakness.

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