Health

Mobile Technology Transforms TB Treatment

Some patients can use their smartphone video to prove they have taken their mandated tuberculosis medications.

 

TB is curable if a patient follows the strict regimen of taking antibiotics daily for six months. If a patient doesn’t follow the regimen, he risks developing drug-resistant TB, which can be deadly. That’s why a medical professional watches TB patients take their meds.

In the past, a medical professional had to travel to the patient, or the patient had to drive to the TB clinic to be observed taking the meds. That’s time-consuming and expensive. Now the use of smartphones might be a huge breakthrough in TB treatment if the results of a study in San Diego County and Tijuana are any indication.

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) and the Tijuana Municipal TB Control Program particpated in a pilot program allowing TB patients to be observed taking their required medication via uploaded videos that take mere minutes to complete.

“Where it’s at these days is really with mobile technology,” said Dr. Kathleen Moser, chief of TB Control for HHSA. “Younger people with TB had been asking us why they couldn’t do it on a cell phone.”

Patients sometimes struggle to complete the entire schedule of treatments because it’s lengthy, there could be side effects from the medication, or the patient could begin to feel better after a few months and think they didn’t need to take the antibiotics any longer, according to Richard Garfein, a UC San Diego School of Medicine professor.

Worldwide, TB is the second leading cause of infectious disease deaths. California, Texas, Florida and New York accounted for more than half the cases in the United States in 2012, and San Diego County has a higher infection rate than the state average, according to Garfein.

The pilot program used smartphone technology to enable patients to videotape themselves taking their medication and then upload it to a secure website where health officials could record their compliance. This allows patients to take the medication at a time that’s convenient to them and being observed in person by a health professional.

The test run was a success. San Diego County had enrolled 43 patients and Tijuana had nine in the program. After completion of the pilot, 100 percent of the participants said they would recommend the new program.

The next phase of the pilot project will enroll another 50 patients in San Diego County through a partnership with the Verizon Foundation and expand the program to New York City and San Francisco. The innovation could lead to a big cost savings for the County.

“We have 200 to 300 new patients in the county every year,” said Moser.

Because TB is so prevalent in the region, every patient is placed in an observation program. Right now the County has between 8 and 10 staff people doing home visits with TB patients. The expansion of the video program would allow those staff to be redeployed to other tasks.

The program was created by researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine in partnership with the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

 

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact