Wednesday, May 19, 2010

mHealth on the Rise

The Army’s use of mCare a bi-directional messaging system provides valuable information to the soldier’s personal cell phone. Appointment reminders, unit announcements, health and wellness tips, questionnaires, and resource messages are available. Because of the scalability of “mCare”, messages can go to all users and/or to specific regions, units, or individuals.

The system is operational when the care team enters the web site and schedules a message, the message is then sent to the soldier’s phone, where the solider can respond to the message by selecting a button or single character. The replies are then returned securely to the online mCare portal awaiting a response.

The Army is working to expand the cell phone concept especially to help TBI patients. Research is ongoing to upgrade the personal cell phones with unique software to allow targeted reminders and messages to be sent to individuals regarding their specialized treatment plans.

The plan is to target the Community-based Warrior Transition Units (CBWTU) that currently provide outpatient care to Army National Guard and Reserve members affected with TBI once they leave inpatient medical facilities.

Through the program, every eligible soldier that comes into one of the designated CBWTUs will have their personal cell phone upgraded with the mCare application. Once upgraded, the phones will receive SMS text messages announcing new treatments and program information when available, and provide appointment reminders when applicable.

Even with the special software, cell users must open the secure application by entering a password before being able to access the appointment reminders as well as important health and medical information related specifically to their treatment plan.

The project is set to roll out in four phases. The first phase dealing with performance improvement began in February to implement the application on the cell phones of soldiers at three CBWTUs. The goal is to measure appointment no-show rates and then evaluate if appoint notifications sent to cell phones increases the likelihood that service members will keep their appointments.

Phase II is due to start and will expand the full spectrum of messaging to two additional CBWTUs in Florida and Arkansas. Researchers will look at whether the system affects the Army’s information network. Expanding on the success of Phases I and II, Phases III and IV will expand the program to the remaining three CBWTUs as well as to additional treatment facilities at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For TBI patients, who frequently experience treatment disruption because of cognitive and functional impairment, this may be the solution to a serious problem. People with TBI experience memory loss and suffer from a wide variety of functional limitations, such as headaches, sensitivity to light, ringing in the ear, nausea, blurred vision, trouble reading, balance problems, trouble with sleep, nightmares, depression, and mood swings.

As a result, their ability to manage their care can be impaired. By sending reminders and updates via cell phones, patients will be less likely to forget critical steps in their treatment and more likely to stay on track with their treatment.