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mHealth App for HIV Patients Proves the Value of ‘Warm Technology’

An mHealth app designed by researchers at the University of Virginia for newly diagnosed HIV patients is proving that 'warm technology' - personalized and personal - can have an impact on patient engagement and care management.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- An mHealth app designed at the University of Virginia for recently-diagnosed HIV patients not only has improved care management and coordination, but has also helped them suppress the virus.

The effectiveness of the PositiveLinks app, developed by Rebecca Dillingham, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine at UVA, was highlighted in a study recently published in AIDS Patient Care and STDs. It reinforces the contention among connected health experts that a personalized mHealth platform – which some call “warm technology” - can enhance patient engagement and improve clinical outcomes.

The study tracked 77 patients who’d been recently diagnosed with HIV and sought care at UVA’s Ryan White Clinic in Charlottesville. They were given an app, managed by the clinic, that enabled them to submit and receive information on a daily basis.

After 12 months, the study reported, the number of patients reporting regular visits to the clinic jumped from 51 percent to 81 percent, with a high of 88 percent at six months. In addition, the number of patients who’d suppressed the virus increased from 47 percent at the onset of the study to 87 percent at six months to 79 percent after one year.

Just as important, researchers found that users were comfortable with using the app – an important consideration considering the population it addresses.

According to the study, users accessed the app, on average, 188 times through the first six months and 312 times by the end of the year – at which time 40 percent of those enrolled in the study were still answering daily questions.

Dillingham and her colleagues say the app appeals to users because it not only offers relevant information, including appointment reminders, delivered by the clinic’s program coordinator, but also enables them to discreetly and securely chat with others going through the same situation.

“They can offer and receive tips about living with HIV, about the rest of life, and about how to interact with clinical services available,” Dillingham told MD Magazine. “They can have all this interaction without having to reveal their identity or their disease status, which is important in many contexts but particularly for some of our patients who live in rural communities where stigma levels associated with HIV infection remain high.”

She also noted that users like to receive information by text message.

“The texting-like format of the messaging is more in line with the way many people communicate today,” she said. “We hear over and over again that it is harder and harder to reach people with a phone call, sometimes especially one that comes from a number associated with a healthcare organization.”

In the study, Dillingham and her colleagues said the app proved popular with users because they saw it as “warm technology,” or personalized technology that allows them to share their emotions (as opposed to “cold technology,” which is impersonal).

The app, they wrote is “not just a stand-alone app, but a pathway to human contact.”

“The concept of warm technology emphasizes human connection and allowed the … intervention to take mobile strategies a step further, enhancing patients’ relationships with their care setting and virtual community.”

The next iteration of the app platform will bring healthcare providers into the mix.

According to Dillingham, PositiveLinks can review self-reported data weekly and alert users and/or providers if they spot any trends. She and her colleagues are now working on a provider-facing app that would enable the patient’s care team to review that data, once the patient gives his or her assent, and communicate with the patient when necessary.


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