UPitt: ground zero for mobility apps

Friday, December 18, 2015

PITTSBURGH – While it may seem like there’s a disproportionately low number of mobile apps for wheelchair users compared to COPD or sleep therapy patients, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working hard to change that.

“We really want people to be more proactive,” said Dan Ding,associate professor at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories atUPitt,who helped design the Virtual Wheelchair Coach.

The app, still in development, educates users on how to acquire, use and maintain their power or manual wheelchairs. The app also provides information about potential health conditions related to prolonged wheelchair use, such as upper extremity pain and pressure ulcers.

“Basically the app walks people through the process of getting a wheelchair—what they need to ask their doctors, their therapists, their suppliers; what they need to bring to the appointment; and what they can expect,” said Ding.

Meanwhile, Ding’s colleague, Dr. Brad Dicianno, has developed another app to help patients with chronic diseases, most of them wheelchair users, better monitor their health.

“When we looked at just the spina bifida population, we saw that a lot of people were being hospitalized for pressure ulcers or urinary track infections,” said Dicianno, associate professorat the UPitt School of Medicine. “Probably about one-third of hospitalizations could have been prevented.”

Enter iMHere, the interactive mobile health and rehabilitation Android app, which allows clinicians to monitor self-care regimens, such as skincare, bowel, bladder and medication management for patients with spina bifida and spinal cord injuries, and intervene in real time.

Besides improving patient outcomes, the app could offer significant cost savings for healthcare providers and stakeholders across the board. A one-year pilot study of the app, which focused on 23 patients with spina bifida, revealed a cost savings of $27,000 per patient, per year.

“If the app is able to prevent costly secondary conditions, it would save money for the insurer, time and effort for clinicians, as well as the time and effort of patients who are hospitalized, miss work or school, or travel for appointments to treat these conditions,” said Dicianno.