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UI director adds medication reminders to Facebook

BY BRITTANY TREVICK | AUGUST 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Patrick Brophy doesn’t have any Facebook friends. He can’t Facebook chat, and there are no tagged photos of him.

But that didn’t stop Brohpy from coming up with Iowa MedMinder, a Facebook application that allows young transplant patients to be more involved with taking their medications.

“It is probably the widest available social media network that we could possibly use for something like this,” Brophy said.

The software, which is still being worked on, is designed for adolescent patients, because they are the toughest to care for after they’ve received their transplant.

“They want to be like their peers,” said Brophy, the director of pediatric nephrology, dialysis, and transplantation at the UI Children’s Hospital. “It’s a real pain in the butt to take their medicine. They want to eat pizza and do fun things.”

The adolescents either forget or actively don’t take their medications, Brohpy said. And when this happens, their transplant is rejected, and they lose it, which is worse for them in the long run.

Through MedMinder, patients will be able to log on to Facebook, go to the Iowa MedMinder page, and see the medications that need to be taken for the day. Just as they do in reality, patients will see a virtual pillbox that will be divided up into days, and sometimes the time of the day, depending on the patients. They can then click on the medications they have taken, which will be relayed back to their primary physician.

Brohpy said his son, Michael, helped him come up with the idea about a year ago.

“I was complaining to my 15-year-old son,” Brophy said. “I said to him what’s wrong with [your age group]? Why won’t you take your medicine? And he smugly said, ‘Why don’t you put it on Facebook?’ And I thought, why don’t I?”

John Achrazoglou, the director of the UI Educational Technology Center, said software such as MedMinder will become very popular in the future.

“It is the way people are used to communicating, and I believe these programs break down barriers between the patient and health-care provider,” he said.

He also acknowledged the potential privacy issues with such a program.

“I believe that the enhancement of communication between the health-care giver and the patient is critical for good patient care,” he said. “But there is always a concern about privacy. I think they are doing a fine job. They are taking a lot of safeguards and keeping up with industry standards.”

Brophy said he hopes the program will be available by the end of this year, after officials receive pilot data to use it safely with people’s medications, and it goes through the institutional review board.

Christopher Blosser, an associate professor in the department of internal medicine, who also helped develop the program, agreed privacy is a critical issue, especially when it comes to adolescents.

“Adolescents are very keenly aware of the importance of privacy, especially when it comes to health care,” he said. “You will lose the trust of adolescent patients if any sense of privacy has not been maintained. We really wanted to make sure guidelines were dealt with as we created this application.”

Blosser said the application will give adolescents more of a support system.

“The ability for them to participate through the use of Facebook, which for adolescents is a common part of life, makes it easier for them to participate in their care,” he said.

But with an online program such as this, there is always the concern of patients lying, but Blosser said that by testing drug levels they can find out if the medicines were taken. He also said he didn’t think people would take the effort to answer all the questions incorrectly.

The program, funded by Pergerine Charities and developed in part with the Amadeus Consulting Co., will be optional, and Blusser and Brophy hope it will expand around the country and eventually the world.

“I think it has the potential to revolutionize how we do things,” Brophy said. “I think it’s going to have a wide flexibility.”


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