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Blue Devil of the Week: Developing Mobile Apps to Ease Care

Arif Kamal develops apps to help patients receiving palliative care

Arif Kamal developed three mobile apps to help patients receiving palliative care.
Arif Kamal developed three mobile apps to help patients receiving palliative care. Photo by Jonathan Black

Name: Arif Kamal

Position: Associate Professor of Medicine and Business Administration in the Duke University School of Medicine

Years at Duke: 9

What he does at Duke: As a health services researcher, Kamal wants patient experiences to be as best as possible in palliative care when patients are fighting life-limiting illnesses. So, he’s giving patients the tools to help. 

Kamal developed three mobile apps that demystify palliative care by explaining supportive care options, finding clinical trials and recommending questions to ask at appointments. 

“It can be hard to bring up sensitive subjects to your doctor,” Kamal said. “If you’re a patient thinking of finishing your bucket list, you might be worried bringing that up will make your doctor think you’re giving up. Using an app can show you how to best bring that topic up and see how other patients might have approached the subject.” 

Kamal’s three mobile apps are “PCforME,” “ELOS” and “Prepped.” PCforMe is in pilot testing across the country. The app serves an introduction to palliative care and prepares patients for upcoming appointments. ELOS, which stands for “extra layer of support,” shows supportive care options in the Duke Cancer Center to newly-diagnosed patients with advanced cancer. The app is currently being evaluated for feasibility. 

Prepped is available in the iTunes and Google Play stores. It preps patients for upcoming appointments by using research to recommend what questions they should ask their doctor. 

“With serious illnesses, you don’t get a do-over,” Kamal said. “It’s important to know what to do from the first visit to the doctor.” 

What he loves about Duke: Kamal loves Duke’s collegial atmosphere. He often works with different schools and departments around Duke when testing mobile apps. 

For one project, Kamal worked with students from Duke School of Medicine, Fuqua School of Business and the Sanford School of Public Policy to see how quickly cancer centers can take appointments. 

“I’m able to pull expertise from all corners of the campus to solve a problem or do research,” he said. “With our students, you’re tapping into the world changers of tomorrow.” 

Memorable day at work: In early August, Kamal created six groups of Duke Cancer Center employees who will test out his fourth mobile app, called “BiteSizeQI.” 

BiteSizeQi teaches healthcare quality improvement principles in bite size portions.The goal of the app is to teach how to implement quality improvement within clinics. If wait times are long, for example, a group of employees can come together to solve the problem rather than issues falling on the shoulders of one person.  

“Everyone participating is invested in improving the patient experience,” Kamal said. “We’re learning together how to fix problems. I love that.”

Special memorabilia in his office: Hanging in Kamal’s office are photos he took on trips to Kenya, Turkey and France. 

His favorite is a moment he captured on a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey. The region is known for its “fairy chimneys,” which are tall, thin spires of rock that protrude from the ground.   

“There are moments when I need to feel centered, and I just look at these photos,” he said. “They remind me of not only the awe and beauty but how I felt when I was there.”

First-ever job: In high school, Kamal worked for the county clerk in his hometown of Warrensburg, Mo. He helped organize election nights.

“I saw democracy in action,” he said. “I got to see what that looks like for the first time and understand how much work goes into that. 

Best advice received: Think of professional accomplishments as a marathon, not a sprint. 

“I’ve seen colleagues and friends sacrifice a lot in the quest to have it all in a short period of time,” Kamal said. “Oftentimes, family, friends, and other pursuits are put on the wayside, whereas a more paced approach would have been just fine.”

Is there a colleague at Duke who has an intriguing job or goes above and beyond to make a difference? Nominate that person for Blue Devil of the Week.