Research collaborative to focus on creation of sickle cell mHealth app

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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading a collaborative mobile health initiative to develop an app focused on boosting care and medication adherence among sickle cell patients.

The effort, funded by a six-year, $4.4 million National Institutes of Health grant, involves the University of Memphis, Methodist University Hospital, Baptist Memorial Hospital, Vanderbilt University and the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee; it will be led by principal investigator Jane Hankins of St. Jude’s hematology department.

The prime focus of the Sickle Cell Disease Implementation Program, according to an announcement, is to create an mHealth tool to manage hydroxyurea treatment. While Hydroxyurea can lessen disease complications, patient adherence is a concern.

“Adherence to medication in chronic diseases is always one the greatest barriers to adequate care," Hankins told FierceMobileHealthcare  via email. "It is even more of a problem among adolescents and young adults who have the highest rates of low treatment compliance and care abandonment in comparison to all other age groups."

Hankins noted that adolescents and young adults are big tech and mobile devices users, which makes them amenable to digital healthcare.

“For these reasons, if we develop an app that can integrate with their medical treatment, the likelihood of its adoption, and therefore, its impact will be significant," he said. "By designing an app that is informed by the adolescents and young adults preferences for how to help them better take their medication, I would expect its acceptance to be high, which will translate into better treatment compliance and increased effect of medications."

Researchers hope to identify hurdles on proper Hydroxyurea use and will share research data nationwide to foster best practices in medication use.

“Our starting point for this mobile health project is its potential impact on the patients we want to reach,” said Hankins. “The widespread availability of mobile phones in our patient community makes for an ideal communication channel to deliver messages that will help patients take hydroxyurea in a better way. It will also provide important other information on the disease and tips on how to stay healthy.”