Navigating Cancer with Touchable Tech

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , July 14, 2010
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There are plenty of solutions out there to help hospitals and health systems manage huge amounts of data from diverse sources. But St. Joseph's Health System in Orange, CA, wanted to take the process a step further—not only gathering all that information for its own benefit, but to making it accessible to newly diagnosed cancer patients.

Partnering with Microsoft Health, the organization created a three-pronged program that includes the Amalga unified intelligence system, Microsoft's Surface technology, and Microsoft's online PHR, HealthVault. Together, they allow the organization to gather, store, and share data with patients. The patient-facing Surface device is the most visible aspect of the system. It looks a like a large coffee table and has room to seat four to five people around it. Caregivers, patients, and family members can view images, move files between folders and into their Microsoft HealthVault online PHR account—all using an interactive touch screen.

Some of the features include:

  • 3-D anatomical images that can be annotated to show exactly where a lump is located on the patient's body and where an incision might be done
  • The ability to open, enlarge, rotate, and make notes on radiology images including x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans
  • A touch screen that allows patients and physicians to share all of the files with each other by "dragging" them into folders
  • Audio recordings of the conversation between caregiver and patient


The system will give patients access to their health information on their own terms and is user-friendly, says Larry Stofko, CIO of the 14-hospital St. Joseph's Health System. "Anybody, I believe, can jump right on it and get the concept," he says.

"This is a very high-tech solution that brings that interactive high touch so you are actually having a conversation while looking at something and being able to focus, being able to take an image, to rotate it, to be able to annotate something and save that annotation. To be able to rewind that experience, if you will."

The system will be rolled out at the organization's new Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA—a service line where patient engagement is particularly important. "When someone is newly diagnosed with cancer, there's obviously a lot going through their mind," says Stofko. "It's a very hectic, turn-your-world-upside-down type of event."

St. Joseph's Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment is housed in a brand-new building designed on the high-tech/high-touch principal.

"Sometimes there's a stereotype of a clinical institution that focuses exclusively on their provision of care and their attention to protocols and evidence-based medicine that they lose the personal interaction, which I think our mission and our ministry is part of that broader, complementary holistic approach," Stofko says.

Other organizations using technology to improve patient satisfaction include New York-Presbyterian (Amalga, HealthVault, and its patient portal, and the University of Washington in Seattle and Redmond (Amalga, Surface, and the xBox gaming platform).

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