Chronic diseases are long-term diseases that develop slowly over time, often progressing in severity, and can often be controlled, but rarely cured. They include conditions such as cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), cancer, diabetes, arthritis, back problems, asthma, and chronic depression. Worldwide, chronic diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of death and disability. India is no exception to this trend. In fact, about 50.9 million people suffer from diabetes alone in India, making it the ‘Diabetes Capital’ of the world.
In treating chronic diseases, medical practitioners recommend that clients be meaningfully involved with the disease and its symptoms, soliciting them to be active partners in managing their condition, rather than passive recipients of care. Moreover, best practices suggest that support for individual self-management should be an integral feature of the health care organization.
Clients need a range of support services to become effective self-managers of their chronic conditions. Five kinds of self-management and training support services are key:
- Information and education about the disease, its causes and effects, strategies to forestall its progress and prevent disease complications, and effective treatments
- Training in skills to manage the disease day-to-day. These range from technical skills, such as monitoring blood sugar levels, to problem-solving and coping techniques. Improving client self-efficacy – the confidence to actually do what needs to be done – is also an important skills objective.
- Behaviour modification programs to help clients change the behaviours that exacerbate their condition or increase the risk of complications. Examples include smoking cessation and physical exercise programs.
- Counseling, advice and supportive services to help clients learn how to cope emotionally with their conditions
- Linking with all available health and social resources in the community.
Furthermore, the final key to self-management support are the follow-up measures that help providers and clients stay on track with the care plan, and day-to-day self- management activities. These follow-up measures include appointment and check-up reminders, checks on client compliance with their care regimen (including medications), and ongoing help with self-monitoring.
In the developed world, most of these health promotion activities are delivered in community settings, such as hospitals or workplaces. In India, however, the infrastructure to support such high-touch services is not as easily available. Therefore, it is critical that healthcare organizations leverage the deep penetration of mobile phones in order to supplement the human support services they provide.
For example, Uniphore works with a rural healthcare organization in Tamil Nadu focused on treating cardiovascular diseases. The business was struggling to meet each patient often, as the costs of contact were so high. Therefore, in order to consistently and meaningfully support their patients, the company elected to create an automated, voice-based support system. Once a patient is entered into the system, they are put on a ‘schedule’ of calls, in which the system automatically reaches out to them in order to support them in their disease management. For example, early on in the disease, patients get calls on a daily basis with suggested behavior modification in terms of lifestyle and diet. They are also educated about various complications with the disease they are experiencing, and the choices they have for dealing with those complications. Most importantly, the system also engages in interactive conversations with the patient to ascertain their levels of medication and treatment compliance. It simple enquires whether or not patients have taken their medication, and when they have not, it helps to solve the problem. All of these calls are conducted in various local languages as required. Additionally, using Speech Recognition, the system will capture the responses of the patients, converted them to text, and store them in a backend MIS.
For our innovative work in disease management and awareness building in the healthcare domain, Uniphore has recently been accepted as a member of the global mHealth Alliance. We look forward to continue to tackle the challenges of healthcare delivery in India and across the world, leveraging speech technology as a tool for meaningful communication between organizations and their patients.
Please write to me at [email protected] for more details about our voice based mHealth (disease management) solutions.
About Uniphore: Uniphore Technologies Inc is the leader in Multi lingual speech-based software solutions. Uniphore’s solutions allow any machine to understand and respond to natural human speech, thus enabling humans to use the most natural of communication modes, speech, to engage and instruct machines. Uniphore operates from its corporate headquarters at IIT Madras Research Park, Chennai, India and has sales offices in Middle East (Dubai, UAE) as well as in Manila, Philippines.