As increasing numbers of New Zealanders are being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), University of Otago researchers have developed a smartphone application (app) proven to be as effective as clinical care in helping patients manage their disease.
IBDsmart, an app for symptom monitoring for patients with IBD was launched by one of the developers, Head of the Department of Medicine and Gastroenterologist, Associate Professor Michael Schultz, at the annual scientific meeting of the New Zealand Society of Gastroenterology in Dunedin today.
At the launch, Associate Professor Schultz announced results of a clinical trial of the app, together with another health app, IBDoc® a commercially-available product used for stool monitoring. The trial compared the management of IBD using the two smartphone apps versus standard face-to-face outpatient care among 100 patients.
IBDsmart was used for symptom monitoring, while IBDoc® for stool monitoring. Results showed the apps were considered by both patients and doctors as acceptable, usable and non-inferior to standard clinic-based care.
“The study showed there was no difference in terms of quality of life for patients whether they used the apps or had face-to-face meetings,” Associate Professor Schultz explains.
“The significance is great because we reduced the number of outpatient appointments potentially freeing up time for specialists to see more urgent cases, which is hugely significant as demand for their services increases across multiple diseases they need to find ways of prioritising which patients to see based on need,” he says.
“But not only do we have time to see urgent patients, but all the indirect costs for patients of attending appointments like having to travel, or take time off work, are also reduced.”
Currently, there are about 22,000 patients with IBD in New Zealand with numbers increasing about 5.6 per cent annually. The trial showed outpatient appointment numbers were 1.7 annually for patients following standard face-to-face care and 0.6 for patients using the apps. There was no difference in the number of surgical outpatient appointments or IBD-related hospitalisations.
A further trial is now being run in Central Otago, where use of the IBDsmart app is combined with patients using teleconference facilities to talk to specialists. It is supported by Southern District Health Board.
Up until now, apps have not been widely used in New Zealand for management of IBD. The IBDoc® app is commercially available however, it is not publicly funded. Following the launch of IBDsmart, it will be freely available to download from the App Store. The app will also be promoted by Chron’s and Colitis New Zealand to their members and Associate Professor Schultz expects national pick-up.
Other people involved in the development of IBDsmart include Head of the Department of Information Science Professor Holger Regenbrecht and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Science Tobias Langlotz, Professor Murray Barclay from the Department of Gastroenterology at the University of Otago, Christchurch, PhD student Andrew McCombie and Middlemore Hospital gastroenterologist, Dr Russell Walmsley.
University of Otago