Penn State Researchers Working on Amazon Alexa Skill for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients

Cancer

For women living with metastatic breast cancer, handling day-to-day symptoms, treatment fallout, and stress can often be a bit overwhelming. Finding ways to alleviate these issues is helpful and needed. That’s where a new project from Penn State comes in.

A team from Penn State’s College of Medicine and College of Information Sciences and Technology has created a tablet-based Amazon Alexa skill to help metastatic breast cancer patients with their day-to-day health. The “Nurse AMIE,” or “Addressing Metastatic Individuals Everyday,” skill supplements treatment from a physician and focuses on improving quality of life.

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Kathryn Schmitz, professor of public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, says, “There’s a need to create platforms and possibilities for metastatic breast cancer patients to be able to receive appropriate self-care, and to be able to be empowered to do what they can for themselves to address their symptoms.”

Schmitz adds that metastatic breast cancer patients experience significant symptom burden, but they often address only treatment and medical issues with their doctors, not supportive care.

Nurse AMIE tries to cover the gap by focusing on pain, fatigue, sleep, and psychosocial issues like anxiety and depression. Patients open the skill each day and answer questions about their current symptoms. After that, they’re given evidence-based treatments to help address the symptoms, like guided meditation sessions, exercise videos, and lessons in cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Saeed Abdullah, assistant professor of information sciences and technology, says, “Our goal was to lower the burden for breast cancer patients by making sure they can use this supportive platform without worrying about which button to click or getting overwhelmed by the technology. We have seen an increasing number of individuals, particularly older individuals, become more inclined to use smart speakers. So this seemed like a really great opportunity to bring not only the clinical expertise, but also more accessible systems, to this specific population.”

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The team conducted a preliminary study with six women who were asked to use Nurse AMIE for two weeks. After that, participants were interviewed and their user analytics were studied. The goal was to understand how often the skill was used, how long each session was, if the system was easy to use, and what each woman felt could be more customized.

Now, they’re working on a trial with more patients to see how user-friendly and helpful the system is. If it proves to be beneficial, the team believes it can be expanded to help people manage other illnesses.

Abdullah says, “If we take a step back, in terms of the technology development, what we have learned from this project is probably going to be relevant for a lot of vulnerable communities. So the findings here and the methods we are building could be useful for a broad population.”

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Preliminary findings on Nurse AMIE are scheduled to be presented at the virtual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May.

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