Medication nonadherence for patients with chronic diseases is extremely common, with as many as 40% to 50% of patients failing to take their medications as prescribed. Adherence to lifestyle changes can be even harder to maintain. Some people living with inflammatory conditions may find following a Mediterranean diet helpful, but maintaining changes like these long-term can be challenging, particularly if it involves a patient giving up their favourite foods.

But digital health platforms may be able to provide a solution to the problem. Ampersand Health is a company that offers two clinically-led, patient-designed apps that provide digital treatments to support patient self-management – one for people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), My IBD Care, and one for arthritis, My Arthritis. The apps can be used by patients independently to help them self-manage through educational resources and courses, but can also be used in conjunction with their clinical team if their healthcare trust uses the tool.

Ampersand Health founder and CEO Nader Alaghband says: “Our app helps individuals to better self-manage their IBD or arthritis on a day-to-day basis, bringing together a personal health record, medication and appointment reminders, daily lifestyle tracking (including mood, stress, exercise, diet, pain and sleep) and a library of easy-to-access lifestyle and wellbeing courses. Patients are also able to asynchronously communicate via the app with the clinical team and submit questionnaires providing remote insight to their health status. “

How do Ampersand’s digital health platforms work?

Ampersand Health was set up by Alaghband, alongside co-founders and consultant gastroenterologists Dr Gareth Parkes and Dr Bu Hayee, to create a platform that could help patients manage their conditions more effectively outside the clinic.

The company first launched My IBD Care to help patients manage Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, before launching My Arthritis for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis this January.

“Our products enable better channels and processes for communication that can revolutionise the outpatient experience for both patients and clinical teams,” says Alaghband. “Using these systems means that time and resources can be focused on supporting patients when they need it most, creating a more efficient department.”

Through tracking these lifestyle metrics, patients can build up a clearer picture of their condition, rather than relying on self-reporting during semi-regular doctor visits. As well as empowering them to manage and understand their health, this regular contact with a clinical team can ultimately provide a cost benefit for the healthcare system by allowing physicians to assist patients remotely on an ad-hoc basis. In doing so they have the potential to intervene early if more serious complications arise, saving time and money that would need to be spent in-clinic further down the line.

Parkes says: “Platforms such as My IBD Care empower patients to have some control over the care of their condition. It enables a better way for clinicians to engage with patients and provide support in real-time. Plus, improving patients’ understanding of their disease and medicines is a critical part of successfully managing inflammatory diseases, and so, in partnership with experts who truly understand what it’s like to live with these conditions, we’ve created a huge bank of educational content that helps to empower people in holistic symptom and lifestyle management.”

Self-monitoring apps could become increasingly popular

Reporting symptoms in real time for further analysis may well become a bigger part of people’s daily health regimes going forward – and not just for chronic illness.

ZOE, an app developed by academics to monitor how the body responds to food, launched a Covid-19 symptom tracker during the pandemic which has been a runaway success. The app is the largest community monitoring tool for Covid-19 in the world, having been downloaded by more than four million people in the UK by July last year. By October, epidemiologist and ZOE co-founder Tim Spector reported that around one million people were inputting their health data into the app – symptomatic or not – every single day.

The global market for healthcare apps was valued at $40.05bn in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.7% until 2028. While not every healthcare app will feature remote monitoring as part of its offering, the pandemic has left patients far more open to telehealth solutions such as those offered by Ampersand – and the team behind the tools believes they could help make a significant positive difference.

Parkes says: “Perhaps the most exciting developments might lie in the digital therapeutic modules that we are developing for patients that we hope will allow them to better control symptoms such as pain and fatigue, overcoming barriers to medication non-adherence and improving quality of life through reduced stress, better sleep and more exercise.”