Electronic swallowing intervention package to support swallowing function in patients with head and neck cancer: development and feasibility study

Julie Cowie, Sally Boa, Emma King, Mary Wells, David Cairns

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Background: Many patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer (HNC) experience significant swallowing difficulties, and there is some evidence that swallowing exercises may improve outcomes, including quality of life. This feasibility study developed an evidence-based, practical Swallowing Intervention Package (SiP) for patients undergoing chemoradiotherapy (CRT) for HNC. As part of the study, an electronic version of SiP (e-SiP) was concurrently developed to support patients to self-manage during treatment. This paper reports on the e-SiP component of this work. Objective: The objective of our study was to develop and conduct a preliminary evaluation of an electronic support system (e-SiP) for patients undergoing CRT for HNC. Methods: The study was conducted using a recognized mHealth development and evaluation framework and involved health professionals and patients who were undergoing CRT for HNC. The scoping stage of e-SiP development investigated the potential usefulness of the app, exploring how e-SiP would look and feel and what content would be appropriate to provide. Patient and carer focus groups and a health professionals' consensus day were used as means of data gathering around potential e-SiP content. A repeat focus group looked at an outline version of e-SiP and informed the next stage of its development with regard to refining the requirements for the tool. This was followed by further development and a testing stage of e-SiP that involved the coding of a prototype, which was then evaluated using a series of steering group meetings, semistructured interviews with both patients and health care professionals, and analysis of e-SiP log data. Results: Feedback from focus groups and health professional interviews was very positive, and it was felt e-SiP use would support and encourage patients in conducting their swallowing exercises. However, of the 10 patients who were offered e-SiP, only 2 opted to use it. For these patients, the aspects of the e-SiP app were considered useful, in particular, the ease of keeping a diary of exercises performed. Interviews with users and nonusers suggested significant barriers to its use. Most significantly, the lack of flexibility of the platform on which e-SiP could be accessed appeared a dominant factor in deterring e-SiP use. Conclusions: The results suggest that further research needs to be conducted around the implementation of e-SiP. This involves evaluating how e-SiP can be better integrated into usual care and through patient training and staff engagement, can be perceived as a beneficial tool to help support patients in conducting swallowing exercises.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15
JournalJMIR - Formative Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2018


  • head and neck cancer; ehealth; self-management
  • mobile phones
  • mHealth
  • chemoradiotherapy
  • eHealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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