Implementation of e-platform for taste control in Italian cancer patients

DHE twinning GPFC enables personalised care for nutritional problems in cancer patients.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy experience many side effects, including taste disorders. As a result, since food intake decreases and the risk of malnutrition increases, therapies are less tolerated and recovery can be burdened. Furthermore, such side effect as food aversion can lead to the inability to maintain social eating habits, mood disturbances and decreased social functioning. The DHE twinning “Gastrology & Primary Food Care” (GPFC) represents a digital platform designed to be implemented by the PrimFoodCare, Belgium (twinning originator) in Fondazione ANT Italia Onlus (twinning adopter).

The GPFC platform was originally created by the Center for Gastrology in Leuven to map the individual profile of the taste perception in patients who experience changes in taste, as well as to provide screening tools to monitor the nutritional state of patients. Within the DHE project, the idea of the twinning was to develop the ready-to-use GPFC e-platform in the Italian context, in particular, to make it available for cancer patients suffering chemotherapy-induced taste disturbances assisted by the ANT. 

Firstly, since recipes are culturally sensitive, they had to be embedded in the Italian eating habits in order to be ready to self-prepare personalised meals at home. So, the recipes and e-platform contents were adapted to the national context. The GPFC platform was fully translated into Italian. Both the homepage and the registration procedure was translated and uploaded.

Secondly, the twinning partners moved to training the target professionals on the use of the e-platform and the use of all included nutritional screening and assessment tools. During this stage, the ANT health care professionals were trained by the Prim team on monitoring the procedure and on the use of sections/tools of the platform. Therefore, by studying the degree of alteration of gustatory, olfactory and trigeminal stimulation and by taste control techniques, the trained professionals became empowered to suggest personalised recipes so to make the patients perceive a flavour similar or equal to what they felt before the start of the chemotherapy treatments. In addition to it, the Prim provided training on the culinary part: a total of 6 professional chefs have been trained to suggest personalised recipes. They have been also educated on how to deal with patients when asking about their preferences and aversions; to use a friendly and nice contact, how to create a pleasant talk instead of filling in a questionnaire. 

This way, thanks to the GPCF platform, the ANT assistance is now able to not only significantly improve the food intake of its patients but also greatly enhance their quality of life. With this tool, it has become possible to bring an initial but fundamental change in the health sector by introducing a nutrition platform, in addition to the medical and care ones that already exist today. 

The twinning provided the adopter with the indispensable preconditions to successfully expand its assistance with personalised care for nutritional problems in cancer patients. Due to the digital approach, the cost of the intervention phase will be low, and it will be possible to bring this solution to thousands of cancer patients assisted by the ANT. After partial adoption during the twinning project, the ANT anticipates a first upscale to 100 patients in 2021, in combination with scientific research, and then a second upscale to approximately 400 patients to provide sound statistical evidence.