March 22, 2013
University of Virginia (UVA) Health System doctors have developed an app called Positive Links to help HIV-positive people remember to take their medicines. Geared to helping recently diagnosed patients, the app's name signifies being HIV-positive and linked to care. Rebecca Dillingham, an assistant professor of medicine at the UVA Health System, declares, "Obviously, we're not going to fix everybody's life, but we're hoping to come up with better strategies to better manage the stress both of living with HIV and also of daily survival." The app will provide access to HIV information by helping patients remember their doctor's advice, schedule doctor appointments, provide refill reminders, and give personalized daily medication reminders. The messages will be in the patient's own voice, asking them to respond when they have taken their medication and sending back a confirmation message indicating that they have taken it.
Dillingham explained that HIV patients really cannot miss medication doses, likening it to the difficulty patients sometimes have in taking a full course of antibiotics for other conditions. In this instance, a person needs to take HIV medications for the rest of one's life. UVA Health System doctors' research indicates that stress negatively affects patients' ability to take care of themselves; therefore, the app also provides a stress relief strategy that motivates patients to monitor their stress level and gives them ways to manage it.
Positive Links is targeted specifically to Virginia's rural residents who face particular challenges, as the HIV epidemic is expanding quickest in the rural south, but rural residents live far from doctors and thus are isolated. Most of these people do not know anyone else who is HIV-positive, and while the epidemic is growing fast, they do not know it. Positive Links will connect them with medical care, even if they cannot get to a doctor. Dillingham stressed that when one is first diagnosed as HIV-positive, they should see their doctor every week if possible, because it is a stressful time for patients; however, when they live three to six hours away from their doctor, they cannot make it to weekly appointments. The app provides contact with the patient's provider and the clinic support systems.
UVA doctors will launch the free app in June, and clinics will distribute it initially. Doctors say that the app could be adapted for use with other chronic diseases as well in the future.