A study has demonstrated the effectiveness of an mHealth app in helping recently diagnosed HIV patients manage their care and improve clinical outcomes.

The smartphone app, called PositiveLink, was developed by Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia (UVA) in the US, Dr Rebecca Dillingham, who has a keen interest in using mobile technologies to enhance adherence and engagement among people living with HIV (PLWH).

Through the PositiveLink app, HIV patients are connected to clinic staff and are provided with educational resources, daily queries of stress, mood and medication adherence, as well as weekly quizzes, appointment reminders and a virtual support group.

As part of the pilot study, 77 patients who were recently diagnosed with HIV and receiving treatment from UVA’s Ryan White Clinic were given the app so that they could submit and receive information daily to and from the clinic.

After a 12 month period the study found that the number of patients reporting regular visits to the clinic increased from 51% to 81%, with a high of 88% at six months. It was also revealed that the number of patients who had suppressed the HIV virus increased from 47% at the onset of the study to 87% at six months to 79% after one year.

On average, study participants accessed the app 188 times through the first six months and 312 times by the end of the year – of which 40% of those enrolled in the study were still answering daily questions.

According to Dr Dillingham, the reason why the app was so successful was because users were comfortable using it on a daily basis. The app offers relevant information and 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,” said Dr Dillingham.

“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,” continued Dr Dillingham.

Dr Dillingham also made note to the popularity of the texting-like format of the messaging. “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 organisation,” said Dr Dillingham.

The study attributed the app’s overall success to it be being seen as ‘warm technology’, or personalised technology, which allows patients to share their emotions, as opposed to ‘cold technology,’ which is impersonal.

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

Dr Dillingham and her team are now working on developing a healthcare provider-facing app that would enable the patient’s care team to review the patient data submitted, once the patient gives their consent, and communicate with the patient when necessary. 

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