Taming Tuberculosis Through Technology

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.