Innovator Spotlight – Areej El-Jawahri, MD

Areej El-Jawahri, MD is an MGH oncologist specializing in the care of patients with hematologic malignancies and a 2017 recipient of the Innovation Pilot Grant through the Medicine Innovation Program (MIP).

Co-sponsored by the mLab, Dr. El-Jawahri’s project, Psychological Intervention Application for Acute Myloid Leukemia, incorporates medical education and traditional counseling support services into an app to help patients adjust to and further understand their experience after being diagnosed with AML.

Dr. El-Jawahri said gamification provided a perfect solution for a positive experience for a patient throughout their treatment, particularly in the case of the traumatic process of AML diagnosis.

“Our biggest challenge was finding good technologies that can translate not only what we’re thinking about medically, but also from a psychological education perspective,” Dr. El-Jawahri said. “We’re setting this up as an actual game for them with the goal of the game being to get them to home and along the way learning different skills to best manage their physical and psychological symptoms throughout the rest of their journey with cancer.

Gamification is a recent trend in digital health innovation, popular because of its potential for providing user engagement, independence and motivation. However, Dr. El-Jawahri said her expertise lies mostly in leukemia, so the project has been a welcome opportunity for cross-departmental participation.

Dr. El-Jawahri said, “It’s been incredible watching the intersection of oncology, our psychology experts, our technology experts, and the input of families in making something that could potentially change the way we help these patients throughout their illness course.”

Having the support of an in-house innovation-minded platform has been “absolutely crucial”, Dr. El-Jawahri said. “They were able to empower us to have enough understanding of how this process works to be able to communicate effectively what we want to the company we’re working with.”

MIP has provided a platform for innovators like El-Jawahri to connect with necessary resources and step out of the comfort zone of everyday medical work to use exciting new technologies to improve care.

“We in healthcare have not been utilizing technology to the fullest,” Dr. El-Jawahri said.

“The culture of MIP makes us think in a way we don’t typically traditionally think because that’s not how we’ve been trained. Now, we’re automatically thinking of creative solutions that utilize technology to do a better job for our patients is really critical for the entire hospital system.”