TUH Secures Funds to Develop a Cutting Edge New Smartphone App with Support from TU Dublin

16 Mar, 2022

Tallaght University Hospital (TUH) and its Interdisciplinary Chronic Pancreatitis Service are delighted to announce plans to develop an innovative mobile phone app, termed the SmartCP app.

This will empower patients with chronic pancreatitis to take control of their condition, and will improve communication with the hospital team. The SmartCP app will provide patients with more direct and timely access to the team, and allow the provision of clear, appropriate, accessible and accurate information. The announcement follows a successful application for funding to the Department of Public Enterprise & Reform Innovation Fund.

Chronic pancreatitis is a chronic, incurable condition in which the pancreas is inflamed. This leads to constant, unmanageable stomach pain, difficult-to manage gut symptoms, severe ‘brittle’ diabetes and poor wellbeing for the patient. Patients with chronic pancreatitis lose weight and become malnourished; many develop vitamin deficiencies and osteoporosis. Patients' needs are complex and difficult to manage. These patients need treatment from multiple specialists.

The new SmartCP app will enable patients with chronic pancreatitis to report red flags like worsening malabsorptive symptoms and signs of new diabetes so that doctors can intervene earlier to achieve better outcomes. Those who suffer from this particular condition have a higher-than-normal risk of developing pancreatic cancer, and therefore the detection of red-flag pancreatic cancer symptoms would allow for crucial early diagnosis and treatment. 

The project will be coordinated by Professor Kevin Conlon Consultant Surgeon at TUH and Professor of Surgery at Trinity College Dublin and Dr Sinead Duggan, a Senior Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin.

Professor Kevin Conlon, says “Our hospital is very well placed to take a lead on the development of this technology, we run the only dedicated chronic pancreatitis service nationally, providing care for over 300 patients. This new digital tool will improve patient access to specialist care, no matter where they live in the country. I and the team are delighted to receive this funding and the benefits the development of this app will bring to our patients. Our Clinical Nurse Specialist, Ms Marie Egan is central to the running of our service and will be integral to the roll out of this new technology. We are grateful to the Innovation Department of TUH for their support.”

TUH research has shown that Ireland has among the highest numbers in Europe of those suffering from chronic pancreatitis. This app will enable TUH to care for patients in their homes and communities, aligning with TUH’s vision of being a hospital without walls.

Dr Sinead Duggan says “The overall aim for these patients is to keep them healthier for longer and keep them out of hospital.  This app will empower patients with chronic pancreatitis thereby improving their quality of life and wellbeing. Whilst we have built a research programme over the last decade, traditionally chronic pancreatitis has been very much a neglected condition. We envisage that the SmartCP app will represent the lynchpin that enhances the quality of our service and facilitates a shift from illness to wellness, and ultimately towards an integrated care programme for chronic pancreatitis.”

TUH Head of Innovation Dr Natalie Cole, Head of Innovation commented The funding for this project is very exciting. This innovation has the potential to change how we provide care to our patients and also to the service we can provide as a hospital. It will improve patient engagement as patients will have more direct and timely access to their team and provide clear, accurate and accessible information.”

Barry Feeney, Head of the Department of Computing at Technological University Dublin in Tallaght says “We are delighted to have worked with the Hospital and Trinity College Dublin research group regarding the development of this tailored patient app. There are no previous studies worldwide on a patient-specific, interactive smartphone app for chronic pancreatitis. Working with TUH and Trinity we have the potential to change the delivery of healthcare by integrating mobile technology into existing services. The app and its use will also provide important data to help the Hospital plan services into the future.” 

How will it work?

Clinical symptoms: Patients will be able to react more quickly to deteriorating health and provide better and more accurate care to physicians using the app’s graphical information.

Reminders: Patient-specific notifications will be made via the app for appointments, medication, lifestyle advice, and tests.

Information: The app will contain educational content including the pancreas, chronic pancreatitis, diabetes, nutrition/exercise/lifestyle, and pancreatic cancer, as well as informational videos from the multidisciplinary team.

Red-flag alerts: Patients will be able to react quickly to worrying and worsening symptoms including signs of new diabetes, and very importantly –react urgently to any signs consistent with pancreatic cancer thereby allowing earlier diagnosis. Patients with chronic pancreatitis have a high risk of developing pancreatic cancer – which has one of the worst cancer survival rates as it is usually diagnosed in the late stages. Therefore, recognising early signs in those with the highest risk is a vital part of patient follow-up.

A better patient experience: Patients will be empowered to take control of their chronic disease and will have the confidence that they are being heard.

Better care for patients based outside of Dublin: As the only chronic pancreatitis multidisciplinary service in Ireland, many of the Hospital patients reside outside of the city. This mHealth solution will enable clinicians to provide a better service for those patients, ensure that care is not dependent on geography, whilst reducing expense and time-burden for patients.

Resource savings: With improved disease management there will be less attendances to ED, fewer crisis phone-calls, a reduction in emergency admissions and hospitalisation, and more prioritised allocation of clinic time to those who need it (preventing unnecessary follow-up in some cases) – therefore reducing the burden on the Hospital and enabling valuable clinical resources to be used to see more patients.