When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the words can be devastating to hear. As a patient, the agony of deciding next steps, what doctor to see, and what protocol for treatment can be confusing. Some people talk to friends, family, and medical experts to get options and referrals. Now Dr. Laura Bourdeanu, Nursing Adjunct at Excelsior College, has an option to help with decision making for those diagnosed with cancer. Bourdeanu has developed a computer assisted oncology treatment decision program called OncoGambit. Today she shares her story on how this innovation helps cancer patients in their personal treatment plans.
Bourdeanu: I have worked in most aspects of oncological care my entire career. Transitioning from the clinical practice role to a teaching role was a very rewarding journey, as I feel I reached a new level of professional development. In 2013, I began working as an Adjunct in Nursing at Excelsior College. This has allowed me to not only shape the next generation of nurses, but to continue my own professional growth by staying up-to-date with the practice guidelines and collaborating in research studies. I am grateful to the academic environment at Excelsior, as I have had valuable interactions with colleagues that have helped to inform my decisions, including those pertaining to the OncoGambit website itself.
Excelsior Life: Like our students, balancing work and school can be a challenge, yet manageable. Can you tell us about your experience balancing work and a business startup?
Bourdeanu: Working on a startup business is very time consuming and working for Excelsior College has allowed me to work on OncoGambit by offering me a flexible schedule. Through my association with Excelsior, I am able to maintain a very rewarding relationship with academics while I manage my family life, and continue my involvement in OncoGambit. It has been a very gratifying experience and I highly recommend it to professionals who want to contribute to academics in a rigorous, but fun and professionally satisfying environment.
Bourdeanu: Dr. Luu and I worked together at The City of Hope Medical Cancer Center in Duarte, CA for several years. During this time, we treated hundreds of breast cancer patients, augmenting our clinical practice with research endeavors. We were always trying to improve the way in which care was delivered, be it from the “hands-on” standpoint or in terms of optimizing treatment protocols, and survivorship studies. It was during this period that we found our common interests blended well and formed the basis for our future collaboration on OncoGambit.
During our tenure we noticed that while there was a large volume of general information for cancer patients, there was nothing to help them compare how their individual treatment plan stacked up against peer-reviewed, standardized treatments. An increasing number of patients were seeking treatment validation, and, in some cases, it was very difficult for them to obtain this in a timely manner. Dr. Luu recognized the internet could make her experience as a practicing oncologist available to patients without the constraints imposed by geographical proximity.
When Dr. Luu asked if I was interested in joining her to help increase the number of cancer patients able to get treatment validation and to improve their understanding of their particular disease process, I accepted immediately. The experience has been very gratifying, and was a natural progression of the work that we started at City of Hope years ago.
Excelsior Life: How does someone with a nursing career get started in technology and innovation?
Bourdeanu: I believe nurses by nature are innovators, as they create new ways to care for patients, and the outcomes of patient care often depends on these innovations. I do not feel that for me it was a big leap from being a nurse to being an innovator, as I was already doing that in my practice. Technology and the internet are integral parts of patient care. Information is now at the nurses’ and patients’ fingertips. From desktops to cell phones: nurses and patients can seek information about their condition, treatment, and the like.
Excelsior Life: Can you tell us more about your transition to the technology side of nursing?
Bourdeanu: It is important to mention that starting a website-based enterprise is a multidisciplinary endeavor. For instance, while I had no significant experience in website construction, Dr. Luu’s brother was very familiar with software development and so he shouldered the majority of the hands-on work with the programming aspect of the website. Dr. Luu and I spent time developing the content and the look of the website.
I also educated myself on the ways in which web-based businesses can increase their visibility through the use of blogging, and social media sites. The process has been very interesting and while there remains much to learn, I am enjoying it tremendously. I encourage nurses thinking of starting their own business not to overlook these very important components of the process.
Excelsior Life: What challenges and milestones did you face in creating a tool for cancer patients?
Bourdeanu: One of the challenges I faced was attempting to present the information in a manner that communicated the medical information without coming across as too heavy on technical jargon. However, with the use of several technology tools, I was able to overcome this challenge.
Since our company is currently the only one of its kind, another challenge was raising brand awareness and establishing a degree of credibility. This proved to be more challenging than originally anticipated; however, we were able to build our credibility with presentations at conferences, a presence on social media, and media articles.
Getting a website launched and maintained is obviously an expensive proposition and therefore a milestone, if you will, is the support that we gained from partnering with the crowdfunding company, Indiegogo. Through it, we were able to receive financial backing from parties who support up-and-coming businesses. We are grateful to those who have supported our product.
There were several notable points during the roll-out process but the most gratifying was our presentation at the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and the Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Conference. The product was met with great enthusiasm and we made connections that proved very useful going forward. In all, it has been well-worth our efforts.
Excelsior Life: What has been the reaction by patients and the medical community on OncoGambit?
Bourdeanu: We have experienced a steady increase in traffic to the site. In terms of the medical community, we are pleased with the enthusiasm of our physician colleagues. It provides the busy oncologist with an unbiased source of treatment validation that they can pass along to their patients who are overwhelmed with their diagnosis and want to verify their treatment is as prescribed.
Excelsior Life: How does it feel to have a concept to help cancer patients use come to fruition?
Bourdeanu: I thoroughly enjoyed clinical practice and helping patients through their cancer journey. Although OncoGambit is a continuation of my clinical practice, one way in which it is different is that I am able to affect care making decisions for a far greater number of patients due to the ubiquitous nature of the internet. While we are in the early stages of our endeavors, we are grateful to have already had a strong reception in both the patient and clinical realms.
Excelsior Life: What is next on the horizon for OncoGambit?
Bourdeanu: We envision our company expanding significantly in 2017 and in the coming years. Our goal is to continue to focus on building the platform’s content and achieving our vision and mission. We would also like to add more information to the platform about exercise, nutrition, and preventative care, which go hand-in-hand with cancer treatment.
In addition to continuing to expand our presence in both traditional print media as well as social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, we hope to partner with patient advocacy groups, physicians, and insurance companies in an effort include more patients and their caretakers. We are grateful to those who have shared the good word on our product and look forward to a very exciting 2017 as we continue our efforts to expand the access to cancer treatment information to the public.
Where can someone reading this story learn more about this product? Our website, http://www.oncogambit.com/, is the primary source of information on what we offer cancer patients. We have developed a very easily navigated site that explains exactly what services we offer to a patient. Pricing is clearly defined and reasonable.