Latest technology gives instant access to cancer medication information

Unlike many patients who develop cancer and require chemotherapy treatment right away, it was six years before Marie Nelson needed any medication or treatment for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. “I was very lucky,” says the 64 year-old retired school teacher.  “For six years I took only vitamin supplements, ate a healthy diet, and exercised, and the disease progressed very slowly.”

However, in mid-December, with blood and other medical test results in hand, Marie’s doctor told her it would be a good idea to start chemotherapy.  For the first time, she was confronted with numerous medications and their side effects. “It was overwhelming at times,” says the mother of two.  “Even though my doctor explained how each medication worked, it was still challenging keeping it all straight.”

To ‘keep it all straight’ Marie turned to a series of methods, including physically grouping medication bottles according to type and even considered charts and lists, until her doctor told her about Cancer Care Ontario’s (CCO) Drug Formulary. This publicly available website is a reference for clinicians and patients on the safe use of cancer treatment drugs. Patient information sheets provide descriptions of how medications are used, what to do while taking them, and common side effects.

“There is a lot of uncertainty when you are going through chemotherapy,” says Marie. “Having access to very practical and accurate information really helps to alleviate that uncertainty.”

To complement CCO’s online Drug Formulary, a new and free CCO Drug Formulary Mobile Application was recently launched. With an alphabetical list of drug names appearing at the top of the screen – only one tap away from the launch screen, it is easy to navigate. The mobile application also presents separate patient and health care provider views, each offering tailored information.

Now available in the Apple App Store on the Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, CCO’s Drug Formulary Mobile Application has been downloaded over 1000 times in its first month, reinforcing the need for more advanced technology for clinical decision and patient education tools.

Dr. Kathy Simpson, General Practitioner of Oncology at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre agrees. “I use the existing online Drug Formulary regularly, and have really come to rely on it,” she says.  “With the new mobile application, all of the information for patients and providers is accessible on the go. It is especially helpful for physicians on-call or family physicians who are overseeing a patient’s chemotherapy.” With updates to CCO’s Drug Formulary website immediate and visible in the mobile application, the content is always up-to-date.

“Going through chemotherapy can be a stressful time for some patients.  As a physician I want to make sure that I equip them with information that will alleviate some of that stress and help them understand the full use of their medications,” says Dr. Simpson.  “Now, when I put a patient on a drug, in addition to printing out the drug information sheets for them, I will absolutely suggest they download the mobile application – so they can easily share the information. It means that they will be more informed about the care they are receiving.”

The launch of the Mobile Application is part of CCO’s priority to use electronic information and technology to support health professionals and patient self-care and to continually improve the safety, quality, efficiency, accessibility and accountability of cancer services.

In addition, CCO has developed a number of other technologies and tools to benefit clinicians, including a Systemic Treatment Computerized Physician Order Entry (ST CPOE) system, OPIS. ST CPOEs are electronic applications used to enter an order for chemotherapy, which is then processed and administered by the health care team.

Through a joint project funded by eHealth Ontario, direct links from OPIS to CCO’s Drug Formulary have been built to allow ready access to information when it is needed. This functionality, launched in January 2012, is also available to cancer treatment hospitals using other ST CPOE solutions once their provider activates the functionality.

As Ontario’s population grows and ages, more people will be diagnosed with cancer. The use of chemotherapy will increase, and more complex combinations of drugs may be used. Advances in the use of technology such as the Drug Formulary Mobile Application and the ST CPOE Drug Formulary links are needed now more than ever to effectively support safe, high quality care for patients.

To download CCO’s free Drug Formulary Mobile Application, search “Cancer Care Ontario” in the Apple App store (online or through your device). Select the Drug Formulary Mobile Application and download.

For more information on CCO’s Drug Formulary: