Going Virtual to Prevent Infections in Cancer Patients

One of the most common and potentially life-threatening side effects of chemotherapy is neutropenia (low white blood cell count), which may lead to hospitalization, disruption in chemo schedules and even death. Yet when cancer patients are going through chemotherapy treatments, they’re often so overwhelmed with their diagnosis and treatment plan that it can be difficult for them to hear or remember conversations about infection risk during chemo.

As a two-time cancer survivor, I was honored to share my experiences and perspective during a panel presentation at the May 2018 Oncology Nursing Society’s Annual Congress in Washington, D.C. At the event, attended annually by over 4,000 nursing professionals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previewed a new virtual training tool that has great potential to improve conversations between patients and providers about infection risks during chemo.

PCIP SimulationThe interactive role-play simulation tool is the latest innovation offered by Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients (PICP), a CDC Foundation partnership with Amgen. Through the partnership, CDC leads a comprehensive, evidence-based education program targeting cancer patients, their families and their providers.

Dr. Lisa Richardson, director of CDC’s division of Cancer Prevention and Control, shared that while PICP materials and information have reached millions of people and are very effective, patient-provider conversations about infection control are not consistently positive. When Dr. Richardson learned about Kognito, a health simulation company that developed virtual tools to positively impact childhood obesity and antibiotic use, she was convinced that the technology could also improve conversations between providers and patients to prevent infections during chemo. The first simulation is an avatar teaching women about triple negative breast cancer.

Ron Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Kognito, provided a demo of the virtual tool, noting that he hopes the tool will facilitate powerful, productive conversations and ultimately save lives.

Panelist Michele Gaguski, a nurse and cancer program administrator at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center of Washington Township Jefferson Health, New Jersey, was enthusiastic about practicing real-life conversations with a virtual patient. She said that while oncology nurses can sometimes feel like they’re having the same conversation every day, for patients it is often the first time they’re hearing the information.

At the standing-room only session moderated by Heather Schultz, RN, I learned that there is also a simulation in the works for cancer patients so that they will be able to ask as many questions as they want about infections without worrying about being a burden to their healthcare teams.

It was extremely fulfilling to participate in this conference along with CDC Foundation senior program officer Rebecca Cook and PICP program manager Angela Dunbar, and to see for myself how CDC Foundation partnerships are making a difference in so many peoples’ lives.

A diagnosis of cancer is never easy to bear, but thanks to the CDC Foundation’s partnership with Amgen, patients are learning how to do everything they can to lower their infection risks when they’re going through chemotherapy.

Lisa Splitlog is a senior advisor in the Office of the President and CEO for the CDC Foundation.