Digital health: Putting apps into practice

Many patients do not take their medication as prescribed. The app MyTherapy claims to help. Learn why its founders don’t stop there but devote much of their attention to getting doctors aboard.

In 2014 the Academy of Medical Sciences reported on the issues of poor medication adherence alongside the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine. They stated that the improper use of prescribed medicines costs the NHS around £300 million a year. Also discussed was to what extent the issue had arisen amongst people living with chronic diseases. It’s estimated that 30%-50% of patients taking medication for chronic diseases do so improperly.

The consequences of this issue can arise in avoidable illnesses, hospital admissions and further treatments, all of which put more pressure on the NHS at a time when its budgets and staff are stretched to breaking points. For example, when concerning antibiotics, poor adherence can contribute to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and bring out the emergence of superbugs. Indeed, earlier this year the UN held a general meeting on tackling the crisis, which it stated would become more deadly than cancer by 2050.

To help aid medication adherence is MyTherapy (for iOS and Android), an app designed by smartpatient, a company dedicated to helping patients living with chronic conditions.

I got the chance to talk to co-founder of smartpatient Sebastian Gaede to discuss how the app helps people with chronic disease and its use within the healthcare professional community.

The aim of the MyTherapy app is to “help patients adhere to their treatment plan and manage their medication”. Gaede said.

The app keeps patients motivated with reminders. Also, patients can connect to their caregivers, so these can nudge them in the case of missed intakes. However, the app has increasingly evolved from a pill reminder into a comprehensive tool for managing treatments. To achieve this, the app’s founders want to place MyTherapy right in the center of the patient/doctor conversation:

“Even though we cannot shorten the time a doctor needs for a good consultation with a patient, we can improve the conversation by bringing well-presented data into it” Gaede said, discussing how MyTherapy’s data helps improve the doctor/patient relationship.

The data Gaede talks about is generated through the MyTherapy app. The app does not only remind, but also keeps track of medication intake, measurements or regular exercise. Its combination of reminders, a journal and a range of measurements such as blood pressure, weight, glucose levels and more, helps users worry less while staying on top of their treatment plan.

To improve the patient/doctor relationship which Gaede spoke about, patients can share their data with their healthcare professional. To make this work, the MyTherapy team put strong emphasis on the app’s reporting feature: “MyTherapy’s health report was something we developed together with healthcare professionals to ensure that they see what’s going without needing to invest additional counselling time. They get an overview of all the medication a patient is taking and can see any issues where a patient might be regularly forgetting to take a dosage, or if they take a medication that they weren’t aware of.” Gaede said.

A paper-based report might seem like something which is stuck in the past, especially when the government are pushing heavily towards a paperless NHS. However, Gaede states that “seamless workflow integration is key”: Many doctors don’t want to log in to a dashboard and analyse screen data while counselling. For these doctors, paper is king. For those professionals with a more digital workflow, the app does feature a digital dashboard as well.

The emergence of the digital health market, which is expected to grow by 20% per annum through 2020, over the past few years has seen an increasing amount of health apps come onto the market. Technology designed to support chronically ill patients has just started to spread within the community. Now devices such as Bluetooth connected blood glucose meters and insulin pens are increasingly becoming widely available.

The MyTherapy app attempts to differentiate itself from the other market products by incorporating a patient-centric approach: “Our typical user has one or typically several chronic diseases. If a patient has diabetes and hypertension for example they would have to use several apps. From our point of view, patient centricity means having one app that adapts to the needs of the individual patient and their diseases. This is not only more convenient, it also makes more sense from a medical perspective: Making sense out of patient-generated data requires recognising patterns across all data points, for patients and for healthcare professionals.” Gaede said.

For the consumer, the app is a welcome addition to help manage their medication but for healthcare professionals it’s a different story. Whilst the availability is welcomed, the amount of products on the market makes it difficult for this type of technology to be fully incorporated into healthcare practices. “Healthcare professionals face the questions of out of all these health apps, which ones are the ones that first of all I can really recommend and second which fits my work flow as well?” Gaede said. To him, closing the loop between patients’ apps and their doctors has tremendous potential for the therapeutic outcome: “We need both, patient and doctor for the app to reach its full potential.”

To increase healthcare professionals’ adoption of the app, MyTherapy invests heavily in studies, the results of which show the app improving medication adherence among other things.  “Evidence for effectiveness is the strongest currency in the medical world, but having the evidence is not enough: GPs have to be made aware of it as well” Gaede said.  It may be an indicator of the current trend in the digital health app market, many of which might not be as effective without a direct relationship between the GP and the patient. Both are as important as each other and Gaede understands this: “The big breakthrough of health apps will happen when the majority of doctors embrace them.”



Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via: reece.armstrong@rapidnews.com


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