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Dana-Farber turns to iPads to help cancer patients through treatment


Andrea Casella comes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston every week for chemotherapy to treat her lung cancer. It’s a full day.

“I start with blood work and then I have a doctor’s appointment and then I come in for the chemo which is a couple of hours. It’s exhausting,” says Casella. “And I get bored quickly. You can only read so many magazines and books. It really puts you to sleep.”

Recognizing that patients can spend hours in the clinic for treatment and tests, Dana-Farber has started lending iPads to patients like Casella to help them pass the time. The portable Apple tablets are available to sign out for a three-hour period at no charge; all that is needed is a patient identification card and driver’s license.

They are pre-loaded with games like chess and Sudoku, movies, and a full library of music, as well as videos and information about cancer care at the Institute. The iPads also includes many popular news and entertainment apps.

“Many patients here at the Institute have to spend a great deal of their day with us in infusion chairs, with limited mobility,” says Janet Porter, PhD, Dana Farber’s chief operating officer. “We have televisions and reading material already available, but this is an extra way to help entertain them and pass the time.”

Colon cancer patient Janice Coburn tried out an iPad while she was getting treatment. She says the computer could really come in handy when her grandkids come to keep her company in the hospital. “The games, I probably would like with the kids. We can sit and do games like checkers or hangman. It’s a way to keep the mind going and to have fun.”

Dana-Farber began the iPad loan program in September as a seven computer pilot project. “As we prepare to open our new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, we have sought ways to improve on the patient experience,” says Steven R. Singer, senior vice president for Communications. “The iPads work well because they are comparatively easy to use, have long battery life, and are quick and intuitive. They are also easier to keep disinfected than a laptop.”

The program has become so popular that Dana-Farber is ordering more iPads.

“We surveyed patients and families, and 98 percent said they really enjoyed having an iPad available and that they would check it out again in the future,” says Porter.

The only complaint patients have about the iPads is having to give them back.

“It really helped pass the time and keep my mind off my treatment,” says Coburn. “I told my husband an iPad would make a great Christmas present. I hope he gets the hint!”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ( is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. It provides adult cancer care with Brigham and Women’s Hospital as Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and it provides pediatric care with Children’s Hospital Boston as Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center.

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