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UVA Health System Doctors Develop App for HIV - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

UVA Health System Doctors Develop App for HIV

Posted: Updated: March 21, 2013 06:49 AM EDT

Remembering to take medication can be a real pain, especially for people living with a chronic disease. Now there's an app for that.

Doctors at the University of Virginia Health System are developing an app to help people with HIV, and it could one day be used for other ailments as well.

The app is called Positive Links, because it refers to being HIV positive and being linked to care.

It's currently under development by UVA Health System doctors who are striving to help people who have recently been diagnosed with HIV.

"Obviously we're not going to fix everybody's life but we're hoping to come up with better strategies to better manage the stress both of living with HIV and also of daily survival," said Rebecca Dillingham, an assistant professor of medicine at the UVA Health System.

Dillingham said the app will provide people with access to information about living with HIV in a private and real time way.

"In other words if they wake up in the middle of the night and they're thinking about it they can use this app at 1 a.m. to say 'Gosh, I'd really like to really remember what my doctor told me about this,' and this app will help them do it," she said.

The app will also help schedule doctor appointments and provide refill reminders, as well as provide personalized reminders to take medication each day in the patient's own voice, asking them to respond when they have taken their medication, and sending them back a message that affirms they've taken it.

"One of the things about [living with HIV] you really can't miss any doses of your medication," Dillingham said. "And as most people know, if you've ever tried to take a full course of antibiotics it is really hard to take all the medications that you're prescribed and if you imagine that it's really critical to take it everyday for, as of right now, the rest of your life that's a tough thing to learn to work into your day."

Research by UVA Health System doctors shows stress negatively impacts people's ability to take care of themselves, so the app also has a stress relief strategy, asking people to monitor their stress level and telling them ways to manage it.

"If you can imagine the stress of just being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease in a rural area where you may be afraid to tell anyone that you are dealing with this really life-changing event, stress can become a huge issue," Dillingham said.

Positive Links is targeted specifically to people in rural Virginia who doctors say face particular challenges. The HIV epidemic is growing fastest in the rural south, and people in rural areas face isolation and distance from doctors.

"While the epidemic is growing fast here, most people don't know that, and most people don't know anybody else who is HIV positive," Dillingham said.

Overall, she hopes Positive Links will connect people with care, even if they can't make it to their doctor.

"In the early days of the diagnosis of HIV we would love to see people every week or even more frequently if they needed it because this is a really stressful time," Dillingham said. "When people live three or six hours away they can't and so this app provides additional contact with patient's provider and other support systems in the clinic."

UVA doctors will launch the app in June. It will be free and will initially be distributed through clinics.

Doctors say the Positive Links app has a lot of potential for other chronic diseases and they look forward to adapting it for conditions like diabetes one day.

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