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End-of-life planning made easy

Like a piece of cake

June 2017
Getty Images, gpointstudio

Published in the June 2017 issue of Today’s Hospitalist 

YOU’D THINK an app to facilitate end-of-life planning would have a less whimsical name than Cake. But the name fits on several levels, says Cake’s co-founder and designer Mark Zhang, DO. “We want to change the perception of advance care planning from something dour, like doing taxes, to more of a celebration of your life and the people who give it meaning.”

The name is also a nod to the fact that end-of-life planning has many layers, with health care ramifications as well as legal, financial and emotional ones. A palliative care specialist at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dr. Zhang says the idea behind creating the app was to make a difficult topic more accessible.

“Cake is designed to have these conversations earlier and make them less scary.”

Staff ID, Haipeng Zhang~ Mark Zhang, DO

“Typically, the natural triggers for having these discussions are serious diagnoses, so advance care planning usually compounds a tough situation with really tough decisions,” says Dr. Zhang, a clinical informatics fellow at Brigham & Women’s. “Cake is designed to have these conversations earlier and make them less scary”—making planning, he adds, a piece of cake.

Cake leads you through several “decks,” each a themed series of “cards.” Each card prompts you to respond to value statements depending on whether or not you agree, or need more information. What do you want to happen if your heart stops? Would you want dialysis at end of life? Different decks steer you through funeral planning— what music do you want played, if any—and your digital legacy.

By filling in the cards and decks, you create an online profile that is stored and can be shared. Users can access the app for free, or choose a $120 “concierge” option with access to a palliative care-trained social worker. Many users choose that option when planning with an elderly parent.

While individuals are welcome to use the app, Cake is also partnering with two large insurers in Massachusetts, which are distributing it as an employee benefit. In developing Cake, Dr. Zhang and his co-founder, CEO Suelin Chen, PhD, a former health care consultant, got support from Mass Challenge, a tech accelerator in Boston. Cake is currently one of 31 companies being sponsored by Pulse, a health tech incubator that Mass Challenge launched last year.

It’s the kind of environment that Dr. Zhang—who did his residency in Pittsburgh—says he came to Boston to find. “There are very few places in the nation that have this kind of med-tech scene,” he points out. “You need a confluence of technology partners and medical expertise, and Boston definitely has it.” Get information about Cake at joincake.com/welcome.


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