How Technology Can Help with HIV Treatments

Technology is fast moving, and the world is still trying to adapt. There are apps for everything: getting your groceries delivered, finding the best deal online, seeing what public restrooms nearby are regularly cleaned. If you’ve ever struggled with it, there’s probably an app trying to make it easier.

But how can apps help with HIV medications and treatments?

Starting with the basics, there are the functions available on most cell phones: alarms. Many individuals use alarms and calendar reminders in case they forget or get side tracked when it comes to taking their medications at the correct intervals.

Many people with smartphones also utilize medication reminder applications. The most popular medication app for iPhones is currently Medisafe – Pill & Med Reminder[1]. This app not only reminds patients when to take medications, but also if their prescriptions need refilling or if there are any coupons available for their medications. Medisafe can create PDF progress reports that can be shared with doctors and nurses as well as be linked to fitness apps that track blood pressure, pulse, and glucose levels. Care4Today is a slightly simpler version of MediSafe with its main uses being medication and medical appointment reminders.

Currently Dr. Lisa Hightow-Weidman, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, has been working on an HIV-specific smart phone app[2]. Dr. Hightow-Weidman’s app, P3, was designed with youth in mind. P3 (which stands for Prepared, Protected, and emPowered) primarily focuses on US youths between 13 and 24 who are at high risk for HIV infection. Dr. Hightow-Weidman is focusing on this particular age group is because youths made up 21% of all new HIV diagnoses in the US in 2015[3].

This app sets itself apart from just a simple medication tracker by adding in more social elements to keep users engaged and providing different ways of notifying users to take their medications. P3 ties each medication reminder to a specific, daily event to help create a routine for the user while also protecting their privacy. Instead of a notification about taking PrEP, the app might be programmed to send something like “Did you make your cup of coffee this morning?”

P3 also focuses on repeat engagement from the user, providing games, quests, and social media aspects in order to keep users engaged. P3 is still in development and will be tested in a trial nationwide in early 2019.

But there is always room for improvement and fresh perspectives. Jennifer McMillen Smith, LISW-S, a social worker with the MetroHealth System in Cleveland says an ideal app would also take into consideration a safe way to connect people living with HIV to a supportive community[4]. This might take the form of linking to an anonymous online forum or private Facebook group.

Mark Thompson, MPH, a program coordinator in the office of medical director at the NY State Department of Health AIDS Institute also wants app developers to keep in mind privacy concerns people might have[5]. Some apps link to Facebook for easy profile setup and many people with HIV are concerned about letting apps having access to both private and public information. On a more basic level, many with HIV tend to avoid having an app that is branded as an HIV app. Thompson suggests, “No red ribbons. It should be nondescript and ambiguous.”

Organizations across the country are securing funding to work on HIV-related apps and websites. Pennsylvania State University in Hershey, PA developed the OPT-In for Life app that focuses on overall health and HIV education with link-to-care options[6]. The Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation in Corpus Christi, TX have launched their WELLNESS WEB 2.0, “a text messaged-based support program for HIV+ youth and young adults” that provides links to medical care and resources to overcome barriers and manage their healthcare[7]. Multiple apps such as AIDSinfo HIV/AIDS Glossary and The Body not only provide information about HIV and the current terminology commonly used, but also gather recent news, information and research findings related to HIV and healthcare.

Caring Communities works hard to use technology to our advantage. Many people access our website via mobile devices and because of that we’ve recently redone it to provide an easier, more universal experience whether it is accessed by computer, tablet, or phone. We are available to answer questions via phone, email, and even social media. We also utilize safe, quick, and accurate tests so our clients can be confident in their results. As technology and science evolves, Caring Communities does too.