Bad News Made Better:
How an App Helps Explain Lung Cancer Surgery

by Adrienne Mueller, PhD
May 3, 2021

Surgeries Are Scary

Surgery is always a daunting prospect for the patient, and surgery of the lungs especially so. Our lungs are delicate and specialized organs, and their function is critical for our survival. Currently, one of our best treatments for lung cancer is surgical removal of the tumors, also known as ‘resection’. Several previous studies have shown that providing patients with better information about surgical procedures before they occur can decrease patient anxiety and increase overall satisfaction with care. What first author Jalen Benson and senior author Leah Backhus, MD wanted to determine in their recent Seminars in Thoracic Cardiovascular Surgery study is whether a multimedia education app can help reduce reduce patient anxiety and improve satisfaction with one of the most scary procedures patients face: lung resection.

Educational Intervention

To test whether an educational intervention could help with lung cancer patient care, the Backhus lab developed a multimedia education app to help explain the resection procedure to patients. Their app had three features: a 3D model of the lungs and associated structures, video walkthroughs of lung surgeries, and the ability for the surgeon to upload and annotate CT and PET images in real-time. Surgeons and nursing staff were trained in how to use the app and they then either did or did not use the app as part of their pre-surgery discussion with patients. 48 patients were included in this pilot study – 26 of whom were exposed to the app, and 22 of whom were not. The investigators then determined whether use of the app improved patients’ lung cancer knowledge, quality of life and/or satisfaction with their care. They found that, interestingly, there was no significant increase in patients’ lung cancer knowledge, but the patients who were exposed to the app reported higher satisfaction with their education about their procedure. The study also showed that information delivered using the app was significantly clearer than without the app.

The Backhus Lab has developed a multimedia patient educational mobile app to help lung cancer patients understand their procedures.

Incorporating New Technology into Future Care

Benson et al’s pilot study is a great first step in providing patients with better understanding of their care, more agency in their decisions, and higher satisfaction regarding their lung surgery treatment. Patients having higher satisfaction with their care means they are more likely to adhere to their treatment plans. And better adherence to treatment plans, in turn, leads to better patient outcomes. Indeed, in lung cancer patients specifically, higher patient satisfaction on its own predicts better patient survival.

Given the catalytic increase in telemedicine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, better virtual tools to discuss procedures with patients are especially timely. As virtual healthcare continues to rise, it will be important to continue to use technological advances not just in the operating room, but also – as the Backhus lab has done - to provide patients with a better understanding of their treatment and an even higher standard of care.

Additional Stanford Cardiovascular Institute-affiliated authors who contributed to this study include Prasha Bhandari, Natalie Lui, Mark Berry, Douglas Z. Liou, Joseph Shrager and Kelsey Ayers.

Dr. Leah Backhus