Tuberculosis is a terrible lung disease, which kills thousands of people every year. We do have effective treatments, however, which prevent death and allow getting rid of the infection. But the treatment only works if you are receiving it. A new UCL-led study has found that patients with tuberculosis are more likely to continue their drug treatment if they are supported by smartphones rather than visiting doctors.
Although disease doesn’t discriminate, a lot of tuberculosis patients have social and financial issues. For example, a lot of them are homeless or have a history of homelessness. Scientists analysed cases of 226 patients in London and found that 58% of them had a history of homelessness. These difficult social conditions is the reason why tuberculosis patients have to visit doctors every day to receive treatment in direct observation of health professionals. This standard is difficult to maintain – people just stop coming after several months. This study found that an App, which allows confirming the treatment procedure as successful, is a much cheaper, effective and easy solution.
Scientists found that 7/10 participants completed at least 80% of their scheduled treatments when using their smartphone. For comparison, only half of these doses could be confirmed using conventional methods. The app works by the patient simply filming himself and submitting that video for health professionals to check. Patients received this improvement very positively, stating that going to the doctor every time to receive treatment was both inconvenient and stigmatizing. Smartphones allowed these people sticking to the treatment without going out of their way and meeting doctors. In other words, the treatment was easier to incorporate in the daily life.
These issues require smart solutions and today most people have smartphones. Dr Tereza Kasaeva, from Global TB Programme or World Health Organization, said that it “is an important landmark towards improving the quality of evidence for a technology that is being scaled up in different settings worldwide. This innovative approach is fully aligned with WHO’s strategic vision to provide patient-centred care, increase adherence and improve treatment outcomes for the people with TB”. Of course, smartphones are not going to replace all doctor visits – just daily meetings will not be required anymore.
Of course, many people will note that homeless people do not have smartphones. That is apparently not the case – many of them do. Smartphones became cheap and relatively easy to maintain and a lot of these patients have a history of homelessness rather than being currently homeless. In any case, those who do not have an access to a smartphone will have to keep visiting doctors every day.