The Surprising Way Emojis Can Benefit Cancer Patients

Emojis on blue backdrop
Dimitri Otis/Getty

The ever-growing menagerie of emojis Apple unveils with every update doesn’t just make your daily conversations more colorful and graphic. It’s making it easier for medical professionals to gauge their patients’ quality of life.

In fact, men and women with cancer prefer to use technology when expressing their emotional and physical well-being, according to new research from the Mayo Clinic.

In the study, researchers recruited 115 patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma. All had an expected lifespan of five years or less, and owned an iPhone 5 (or later). Participants were given an Apple Watch with a study app to garner baseline data.

More specifically, researchers used Apple’s ResearchKit—a software framework for medical apps that lets professionals gather medical insights on a patient’s quality of sleep, pain, and mood. (For example, the mPower app can collect metrics related to dexterity, balance, and gait for patients with Parkinson’s disease so doctors can see what factors make symptoms worse.)

They also created two electronic emoji scales to measure participants’ quality of life, rather than use lengthy paper questionnaires and scales, which can be frustrating to complete and result in inaccuracies. [We’d imagine that scale includes emojis such as this: ????]

“Emojis are a near universal, popular form of communication, understandable by diverse populations, including those with low health literacy,” lead author Carrie Thompson, M.D., said in a press release.

Not only did patients prefer to send their daily reports through iPhones and Apple Watches, the data was collected accurately and efficiently (compared to traditional means).

“In the future, it may be possible to monitor patient symptoms and communicate with patients between appointments via wearable technology,” Thompson says.

Which means the poop emoji may finally have found a critical role in society after all.


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