Tuberculosis (TB) is no longer one of the
world’s major fatal diseases, but its prevalence is still a looming specter
over certain parts of the world. MIT researchers in Kenya have found that
individuals that suffer from the condition may not complete their course of
antibiotics, which can have severe consequences in the propagation of
drug-resistant strains of the infection. By utilizing a smartphone app
developed by digital health company Keheala, researchers have found that
patients finish their entire regimen of antibiotics as prescribed.
The application created a link between care
providers and patients, allowing doctors and nurses to have direct access to
infected individuals. The approach was more successful than if the app simply
produced a one-way warning about taking antibiotics. Incorporating caregivers
into the equation increased the number of completed drug regimens, with only 4%
of the patients that had the app failing to take all of their course of
antibiotics compared to 13% of the group that didn’t use the app.
Why Is Such an App Necessary?
Tuberculosis treatments sometimes take as
long as six months to complete. The grueling length of the regimen means that
some patients tend to quit taking the drugs after they start feeling better.
Medically, doctors are aware that these signs of feeling better aren’t a
definite symptom of the disease being beaten. Occasionally, if patients stop
taking their course of antibiotics early, the disease can resurface and be even
more challenging to treat the second time around.
The app focuses on changing the behavior of
individuals rather than dealing with a medical issue. At its heart, stopping
treatment before it is successful is a problem with people’s mindsets. The app
sends regular daily messages to remind patients to take their medication. If
that fails, then follow up texts are sent, and finally a health professional
contacts them if there is still no response to the messages. The aim is to
encourage app users to change their behavior to better their own health.