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How primary care physicians can harness apps for a new age of patient care

Article

Caring for patients with autoimmune diseases is a team sport. Here’s a way for technology to tie your team together.

doctors mobile app illustration: © elenabsl - stock.adobe.com

© elenabsl - stock.adobe.com

The world of patient care is undergoing a remarkable transformation, particularly for individuals with complex conditions like autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases refer to a group of disorders characterized by an abnormal immune response, where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues in the body. These conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, among others, affect millions of people worldwide.

The prevalence of autoimmune diseases has been steadily increasing in recent years, presenting a growing health care challenge. Factors such as genetic predisposition, environmental triggers, and changes in lifestyle contribute to this surge. However, what sets autoimmune diseases apart is their inherent complexity and the difficulties associated with their diagnosis. Many of these conditions exhibit a wide range of symptoms that can vary in severity and manifestation, making it challenging for health care professionals to identify and treat them accurately.

Melanie Igwe
ViuHealth

Melanie Igwe
ViuHealth

Patients with autoimmune diseases often find themselves navigating a maze of medical appointments, as these conditions require care from multiple specialists. The average patient may see several doctors, including primary care physicians (PCPs), rheumatologists, endocrinologists, and others, all involved in managing different aspects of their condition. This intricate web of health care providers necessitates effective coordination and communication to ensure comprehensive and holistic care for the patient.

Recognizing the pivotal role of PCPs in the health care ecosystem, they are often referred to as the "quarterback" of a patient's care. PCPs serve as the central point of contact, overseeing the coordination of various specialists, treatments, and medications. In this era of advancing technology, there is an opportune moment to leverage the use of mobile applications (apps) to augment and support PCPs in managing autoimmune conditions effectively.

The use of apps in health care has witnessed significant growth, driven by patient behavior trends and the need for improved patient-centered care. Virtual care and mobile health apps have gained popularity, offering convenience, accessibility, and the potential to enhance communication between patients and health care providers. Incorporating apps into the management of autoimmune diseases can empower patients to take an active role in their health, while providing valuable tools for PCPs to monitor and collaborate on treatment plans.

Patient behavior trends in recent years have shown a significant shift towards virtual care and the utilization of mobile health apps. The convenience and accessibility offered by these digital tools have appealed to patients seeking greater control over their health care. Mobile apps provide a platform for patients to access health information, track symptoms, monitor medication adherence, and even communicate with their health care providers remotely. The ability to engage with their health care from the comfort of their homes aligns with patients' evolving preferences and fosters a sense of empowerment and active participation in their own care.

While patients are increasingly embracing the benefits of virtual care, primary care physicians (PCPs) are facing mounting pressure in managing the complexities of autoimmune conditions compounded by the persistent issue of staff shortages. One of the challenges they encounter is the lack of interoperability and fragmented data across various health care providers. Patient care is often delivered in silos, with each specialist having limited visibility into the treatments and interventions provided by other providers. This lack of seamless communication and data sharing hampers efficient care coordination and compromises the ability to obtain comprehensive patient-reported outcomes that could inform decision-making.

Although patients are used to integrating health apps, the use of apps in managing autoimmune conditions goes beyond mere adoption; it necessitates using the right apps and effectively integrating them with existing health care systems. Autoimmune diseases present unique challenges that require specialized functionalities not typically found in generic health apps. The intricate nature of these conditions demands tailored solutions that account for disease-specific parameters, symptom tracking, medication management, and personalized care plans. Recognizing these nuances, it’s exactly why my co-founder Kwaku Owusu and I developed ViuHealth to explicitly address the needs of autoimmune patients, offering comprehensive features and a patient-centered approach.

Scaling and keeping patients at the center of app-based interventions may seem complex, but a layered approach can provide a framework for success. At the core is the patient, around whom the technology (app) revolves. Apps serve as a crucial tool that bridges the gap between patients and providers, enabling the contextualization of health data and facilitating communication. Surrounding the patient and the app is the Care Team layer, comprising clinical professionals who provide a human touch to patient care. The Care Team offers support, context, and fills gaps in care when patients are unable to see their PCP or specialists. It is important to note that the Care Team functions in addition to the PCP and specialists, providing a complementary layer of expertise and guidance. Finally, the layer of providers encompasses PCPs, specialists, and other health care professionals who, with a comprehensive view of the patient's health data, can make well-informed decisions and deliver optimal care.

This layered approach ensures that primary care physicians have access to all relevant patient information and can collaborate seamlessly with other providers involved in the patient's care. The integration of apps specifically designed for autoimmune conditions, along with a patient-centered and team-based approach, holds immense potential to streamline care coordination, improve patient outcomes, and enhance the overall management of autoimmune diseases.

By leveraging the power of technology, prioritizing patient needs, and fostering collaboration among care team members, primary care physicians can effectively utilize apps to support patients in managing their autoimmune conditions. This comprehensive approach not only addresses the challenges faced by PCPs, but also paves the way for a more holistic and personalized health care experience for patients.

Melanie Igwe is the chief operating officer and cofounder of ViuHealth, responsible for overseeing business operations and partnerships. With over seven years of experience in healthc are, including roles at Texas Medical Center and Harris Health, she also has a background as a founder of a digital health start-up.

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