You know what’s terrible? Tuberculosis. I was tempted to start an online petition to change the name to “Terriberculosis”, but then I remembered that online petitions don’t actually, you know, do anything.
Fortunately, a group of students out of Tufts University have come up with a way to use the Internet to fight Tuberculosis in a way that actually would help.
While Tuberculosis infects upwards of eight million people per year, it’s generally quite treatable with the help of antibiotics. Lots… and lots… and lots of antibiotics. As in 6 months worth of the stuff — or a full 2 years, if it’s a particularly nasty recurrent strain.
When you’re taking something for 6+ months, it’s almost certain you’ll miss a few doses. The problem: missing doses during Tuberculosis treatment can not only cause a relapse, but can also lead to stronger, more drug-resistant strains. More drug resistant strains means less antibiotics that can take them on; less antibiotics that can take it on mean more people die when it spreads. It’s bad news for everyone.
In 1990, the World Health Organization introduced a strategy they call DOTS (Directly Observed Therapy – Short Course) to help in their battle against Tuberculosis. As part of the strategy, patients are observed taking their medication to ensure they haven’t forgotten. This, while incredibly effective, is also prohibitively expensive.
Thats where the students from Tufts come in. As part of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, a quartet out of the Massachusetts University built a service they call Medivise. Calling in the help of Twilio and a handful of other cloud services, Medivise sends regular SMS treatment reminders to patients and uses their network of peers to ensure they never miss a dose.
Here’s how it works:
- Once you’ve been diagnosed with TB, the hospital or doctor punches your phone number and the details of your treatment plan into Medivise. They also input the numbers of your closest family members.
- Each day, Medivise sends you a text message reminding you of which medications you need to take. Once you’ve taken a dose, you respond to the system by phone call or a blank text to confirm.
- If you haven’t confirmed that you’ve taken the dose within a few hours, Medivise sends a second alert — but it also contacts the aforementioned family members.
- If you still fail to confirm a dosage, your doctor is sent a message alerting them of the slip. This allows them to adjust their records, modify treatment accordingly, and monitor for any signs of relapse.
We tech reporters tend to focus a lot on shiny gadgets and social networks, but tech like this is the stuff that changes the world without anyone even giving it a second look. Imagine how many lives something like this could save in any of the many developing countries where smartphones and other technologies are still rare, but where SMS is prevalent.
The Medivise group has been selected as one of 10 teams to move into tomorrow’s final round of the Imagination Cup, after which point they’re hoping to find the resources to run clinical trials and eventually deploy this around the world. While they seemingly don’t have a website just yet, I’ll happily connect any interested parties with the crew behind the project. Good luck, guys!
[Original Doctor image via Shutterstock]