MUHC’s patient app wins another award
November 20, 2019
MONTREAL – The team behind McGill University Health Centre’s Opal patient empowerment app needs to make more room in their trophy case. In November, the team was awarded the Grand Prix de l’année at Le Gala des Prix TI en Santé et Services Sociaux.
The mission of the gala is to highlight the major achievements in information technology (IT) in Quebec’s health and social services network. Opal has been an overachiever in 2019, having won the prestigious Coup de Coeur des ministres honour this past June.
MUHC noted on its website: “Our heartfelt congratulations go out to Opal leaders Dr. Tarek Hijal and Dr. John Kildea and their entire team of clinicians, physicists, radiation therapists and informatics experts – not to mention the patients who help the team continuously improve the app. You are an inspiration to us all and we will continue to follow Opal’s evolution and award-winning ways.”
With just a few taps, the Opal patient portal app (opalmedapps.com) gives patients access to unique features such as contextualized medical data and personalized educational material, including lab results, medical notes and treatment plans. Recognizing that patients are people with busy lives, Opal also gives them the ability to check in and be notified for appointments using their smartphone.
Opal also encourages patients to actively participate in their care through questionnaires and feedback mechanisms that allow them to rate the educational material.
“With Opal, patients better understand their disease and ask more pertinent questions. That helps us focus the clinical visit on their needs,” explains project co-lead Dr. Tarek Hijal, who is also a radiation oncologist at the MUHC and an associate investigator from the Cancer Research Program of the Research Institute of the MUHC (RI-MUHC).
Dr. Hijal expects the Opal app will have an impact on the day-to-day activities of the MUHC Radiation Oncology Department.
“We provide approximately 3,500 consultations, 10,000 follow-up appointments and 35,000 scheduled radiotherapy treatment sessions per year,” he says. “This app will not only greatly benefit our patients and their families but also our teams, by making communication and information-sharing between patients and the treating team seamless.”
The Opal project started in 2014 in the departments of Medical Physics and Radiation Oncology of the MUHC. Initially, it aimed to use informatics to improve the performance of the radiation oncology department, by providing patients with realistic expectations regarding wait times – a well-known determinant of overall patient satisfaction.
The team quickly broke new ground by including co-lead and patient Laurie J. Hendren as a full and equal leader in research. As it progressed, the team of patients, clinicians, physicists, radiation therapists and informatics experts, including students from Computer Science at McGill University, used the feedback of dozens of patients to fine-tune the app and transform it into a sophisticated tool for patient empowerment.
“Opal was designed to be useful and user-friendly,” says medical physicist Dr. John Kildea, a project co-lead and an investigator from the Cancer Research Program of the RI-MUHC. “Pertinent information is automatically provided once the patient signs in, so they don’t need to upload it. They can also decide for themselves how much information they get. The goal is to minimize lost time and confusion and maximize empowerment and efficiency.”
“I am very proud of the Opal app. It greatly improves my patient experience; I hope that many other cancer patients will benefit as well,” said Hendren, who, unfortunately, succumbed to a long battle with cancer just days before Les Prix d’excellence announcement in May.
Hendren, who was a professor of Computer Science at McGill University, was a breast cancer patient undergoing treatment at the Cedars Cancer Centre of the MUHC and provided essential scientific contribution to the project and invaluable insight based on her experience as a patient. “Each patient is unique, so the Opal app automatically tailors information provided to the patients based on their diagnosis and their place in the treatment pathway.”
Security and confidentiality
Patient confidentiality and security were among the top priorities of the Opal team, who worked with MUHC Information Resources to ensure all data are strongly encrypted. Furthermore, an external cyber security firm undertook penetration tests to detect any flaws in the system.
The Opal app is currently being tested by patients at the Cedars Cancer Centre with additional patients being added each day. Over the next two years, the app will be expanded to five other cancer centres in the Montreal area as part of a project funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and in collaboration with St-Mary’s Hospital and the Direction générale de cancérologie. The Opal team is also developing a version for caregivers.