UOC researchers have analysed 13 apps developed for the treatment and control of neglected tropical diseases, identifying the main weaknesses and evaluating possible improvements

January 26, 2021

A study performed by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) provided eight recommendations for improving the online technology to help with the treatment and diagnosis of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The analysis, presented in a recent open-access publication, was performed by UOC researchers Carme Carrion and Marta Aymerich from the eHealth Lab and Noemí Robles from the eHealth Center, together with José Antonio Ruiz Postigo from the World Health Organization and Oriol Solà de Morales from the Health Innovation Technology Transfer Foundation. In the study, the authors looked at the context of the existing apps and identified their weaknesses.

The recommendations, outlined in this infographic prepared by the UOC eHealth Center, are the result of analysing 13 apps out of a total of 133 candidates, and highlight both their weaknesses and their possibilities for improvement. The goal is to standardize and improve the apps developed for controlling and monitoring neglected tropical diseases of the skin, an even more neglected subgroup of NTDs.

Neglected tropical diseases affect more than a billion people and cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. In spite of this, most people still know very little about them. This is the second year that the World NTD Day has been held on 30 January.

More efficient, better uptake

The recommendations given by Carrion's team in the form of a guide provide an initial base for improving the efficiency in the development and social uptake of apps designed for the control and treatment of NTDs. These recommendations are summarized in eight points:

Nobody should be left out: patients from all regions should be selected to benefit from the proposed interventions. This requires translating the tools into different languages. At the very least, into Portuguese and Spanish in the Americas; and English, French and Portuguese in Africa.

Users must have control: the interventions' end users (health professionals and patients) must be given sufficient training to improve their digital literacy and make effective use of the tools that are provided.

Complexity must be adequately catered for: integrating e-health-related technology is a complicated process that should be considered in depth both before and during implementation.

Utility and simplicity must be there, and, what is more, they must be seen: health professionals, patients and healthy citizens must be able to understand the proposed technology's utility and ease of use. In other words, it must be a facilitator, not a barrier.

The technological requirements must be considered from the beginning: the availability of adequate mobile devices, the potential problems with electricity supply or internet networks, and other technical issues must be considered as part of a comprehensive strategy with a specific objective.

A long-term m-health platform must be established: an m-health intervention's success depends on the existence of a platform that makes it easier not only to implement the tool but also guarantees its sustained, effective use.

Split-level processes are required to improve: in the early stages of implementation of an m-health system, the processes must be divided into two levels in order, first, to refine the process and, then, to optimize it iteratively.

The tool must meet the stated needs: interventions are integrated in a specific health service; accordingly, additional tools should be considered as required.

One of the main challenges faced by this type of app, explained Carme Carrion, also affiliated with the UOC's eHealth Center, is the digital divide, but not in its connotation as a knowledge problem: "The technological features are limited. You can't design interventions that can only be used by a few people, because that widens the health gap and inequality," said the expert. "You've got to look for simple, cheap solutions that leave no one behind, that can be taken to everyone, and not just these communities' socioeconomic elites. That's where the challenge is."

E-health: an opportunity

"There are a series of problems in the countries where these diseases are endemic," explained this expert in e-health solutions. "For example, access to mobile devices by the population, broad band, reliable internet connections, batteries [...]. The number of existing apps related with tropical skin diseases is small. Compared with other, more general health apps, there are few apps available, even in Google Play or Apple Store. And the few that exist have virtually no scientific articles to back them," she continued.

"WHO - who the UOC works with closely on increasing awareness of the NTDs - has been promoting m-health in these countries for more than 10 years, precisely because, in certain areas, in spite of the difficulties, it is much easier to communicate with a mobile phone and make video calls than to transport people physically." However, "in order to do it well, we must have information that reviews the apps' quality," added the researcher, in order to improve their integration and the services that help combat this type of disease.

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)

Related Health Articles from Brightsurf:

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs
Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in health care spending in the US in 2016, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.

New measure of social determinants of health may improve cardiovascular health assessment
The authors of this study developed a single risk score derived from multiple social determinants of health that predicts county-level cardiovascular disease mortality.

BU study: High deductible health plans are widening racial health gaps
The growing Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to the myriad structures that reinforce racial inequities, in everything from policing to hiring to maternal mortality.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-health resource improves men's health behaviours with or without fitness facilities
Men who regularly used a free web resource made significantly more health changes than men who did not, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.

Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.

Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.

Read More: Health News and Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.