Can Apps Help with Medication Adherence After Natural Disasters?

For health care providers, getting some patients to adhere to their medication schedules can be a bit of a headache. What’s more, this lack of adherence is a costly problem: it is the cause of 10 percent of all hospital admissions and approximately 125,000 patient deaths annually, and the reason behind as many as $289 billion in health care costs each year. And following a natural disaster like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which have thrown some health care systems into disarray, ensuring that patients stick to their medication schedules can become even more of a daunting task. But as mHealth Intelligence first highlighted in an interview with a Harris County, Texas public health official, mHealth can help providers to keep patients on track during times of uncertainty.

After Hurricane Harvey battered Texas, Dana Wiltz-Beckham, who manages the tuberculosis elimination program for Harris County’s Disease Control and Clinical Prevention Department, and her colleagues used an app called emocha to make sure that tuberculosis patients were continuing to take their medication as directed. Emocha is a video directly observed therapy (VDOT) app, allowing providers to remotely view patients taking prescribed medication at the designated time. Essentially, it’s a virtual version of directly observed therapy (DOT), during which providers monitor patients taking prescribed medication in person, and which has been shown to improve medication compliance—but which often requires health care workers to travel long distances to patients. Ultimately, using emocha “proved to be very beneficial,” Wiltz-Beckham told mHealth Intelligence. “There was no interruption of treatment here.”

Even outside of communities and health systems still reeling from natural disasters, lack of medication adherence is a widespread problem, with some researchers estimating that 50 to 80 percent of people fail to follow their health care providers’ instructions regarding their medication. And mHealth has increasingly been deployed as a strategy to ensure that patients stick with treatment regimens. Earlier this year, we highlighted a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR); researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine sought to test whether receiving text message alerts help people to stay on top of their medications. The results not only showed that the program, called EpxMedTracking, could help patients stay on track, but that it also could help researchers understand some of the reasons why people fail to take their medication as directed.

Click here to read the article from mHealth Intelligence on mHealth for medication adherence.

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