Multimedia Computer Program Patiently Answers Young Cancer Patients' Questions

August 1, 1996

BUFFALO, NY--When young cancer patients have a question about their illness, they need an educator who has time and patience, and can talk to them in language they can understand.

BUFFALO, NY--When young cancer patients have a question abouttheir illness, they need an educator who has time and patience,and can talk to them in language they can understand.

The Pediatric Multimedia Project (PMP), a new interactive computerprogram developed by researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute,is providing just such personalized cancer information to youngpatients and their families.

"Although a wealth of information is available for cancerpatients, it's useful only if they know how to properly access,correctly interpret, and effectively personalize it," saidMichael A. Zevon, PhD, chairman of the Department of Psychologyat Roswell Park, who helped develop the program.

Dr. Zevon and his Roswell Park colleagues demonstrated the PMPat the 4th International Conference on Long-Term Complicationsof Treatment of Children and Adolescents for Cancer, co-sponsoredby Bristol-Myers Squibb Oncology and the National Cancer Institute(NCI).

"Young cancer patients and their families are typically forcedto learn within a classroom in crisis, the least desirable situationfor processing new information," Dr. Zevon said. The PMPallows a more relaxed learning atmosphere. It engages the userby integrating audio, text, video, graphics, and animation, andprovides individualized, on-demand information.

A family with a child newly diagnosed with cancer, for example,will be able to look up other families whose children are receivingtreatment at Roswell Park. The family can watch and listen asothers describe their thoughts on effective coping. Selectingfrom a menu of specific topics, the family can view a presentationof the same family discussing the selected topic. The family willhave the option of making personal contact with the "computer"family.

If a family wants information on blood counts, the PMP illustratesthe various blood components, explains their functions, definescounts, and provides a printed guide to understanding the informationabout the importance of the child's hematologic status duringcancer treatment.

The PMP uses three modules. The first, the Pediatric Patient Module,has subprograms for children over and under age 12. In the initialinteraction with the program, the child is asked his/her nameand age. This information is used to respond to a child's requestsin an age-appropriate, personalized manner; that is, the computerwill refer to the child by name and will only access displayswritten at the child's reading and comprehension levels.

A menu of information choices is presented. Topics are availablethat shepherd the child through the hospital experience; offermedical facts, coping strategies, and the opportunity to meetother kids who have "been there"; and answer the 10most frequently asked questions.

The Parent Module is an adult version of the Pediatric PatientModule, with two additional topics--Managing Your Life from theHospital and Talking With Your Children.

The School Module, for use by the patient's teachers and classmates,teaches about cancer in the context of the psychosocial aspectsof growing up.

Although users must currently access the program at Roswell Park,in the near future, Dr. Zevon said, CD-ROMs will be availableto families for home use and to schools.

Notes Dr. Zevon: "If science and medicine have taught usone lesson, it is that research is incomplete until the resultsare effectively communicated. Individuals who use the PMP notonly gain access to the information warehouse, but are providedwith a knowledgeable, patient, and indefatigable tour guide."