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Mobile technology promotes empowerment and self-care for heart failure patients

More than 5 million people in the United States have heart failure, a condition that occurs when the heart cannot pump or fill with blood adequately.

The lifespan of individuals diagnosed with heart failure is significantly decreased.

Medical advances and medications increase the chances that patients who have been hospitalized for heart failure can recover and return home. However, many of these patients will return to the hospital within a month often because they are not able to comply with the prescribed medication and lifestyle routines. Readmission of heart failure patients is also a significant economic burden on health systems.

The Penn State Heart Assistant was developed by a team of researchers, clinicians, nurses and students at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine. It seeks to empower heart failure patients to take control of their health and self-care routine.

A web-based intervention, the Penn State Heart Assistant was created to empower heart failure patients to maintain an at home care routine to improve their quality of life and decrease the likelihood of returning to the hospital.

Richard Evans participated in the study conducted at the Medical Center in which heart failure patients discharged from the hospital were provided with an iPad installed with the Penn State Heart Assistant. Over a 30-day period, Richard utilized the Penn State Heart Assistant to enter his medication usage, weight and aerobic activity.

“It was a jumpstart to my daily routine and provided me with a level of accountability to continue my medications, weight management and exercise. I enjoyed using the tool,” Evans said. “The daily communication I received was like having my doctor right there with me.”

The Penn State Heart Assistant, utilizing REDCap, a secure data capture software, provided instant feedback to the patients on their self-care management routine and simultaneously informing the research team on the patients' progress. If a patient failed to log their data over a 48-hour period, the research team was notified and the patient received a phone call.

“The challenge in managing heart failure after a hospitalization is teaching patients not only to monitor their condition, but also to take certain medications or contact their medical team when their condition is worsening. The Penn State Heart Assistant is a tool to educate our patients, motivate them to be an active participant in their care and monitor their condition through a secure web application,” said Dr. John Boehmer of Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute.

At the conclusion of the 30-day study, participants were interviewed by a member of the research team and asked to provide feedback on their experience using the Penn State Heart Assistant. Overall, data from the proof-of-concept study indicated that the participants lost weight, improved their aerobic activity and adhered to medication usage.

“Participating in this study not only helped with my personal health and well-being but I felt I was able to play a role in the development of a tool that could potentially help so many other people with the same condition,” Evans said.

The research team is in the process of gathering additional data to demonstrate that the Penn State Heart Assistant is a viable way to improve heart failure patients' adherence to their specific self-care routines and improve their quality of life.

“The application provides a window into the patients' home. We cannot realistically interact with patients on a daily basis due to the expense. However, by using mobile technology we can play a role in patients' daily lives, teaching them how to care for themselves, motivating them to be engaged in their care while monitoring their progress in an automated manner,” Boehmer said.

The future development of the Penn State Heart Assistant will involve refinement of the application to improve the user experience, explore new methods to motivate patients and discover interventions through mobile technology that will help patients maintain their treatment plans.

The Penn State Heart Assistant study was funded in part by Penn State's Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), Heart and Vascular Institute and Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).

Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) provides resources and services to accelerate research discoveries and disseminate to the community at large, new methods to promote health and predict, prevent and effectively treat human disease. The CTSI is funded through a Clinical and Translational Science Award, UL1 TR00127, from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

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