Mobile App Helps Young Arthritis Patients Track Symptoms, Connect with Peers

Mobile App Helps Young Arthritis Patients Track Symptoms, Connect with Peers
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Adolescents and young adults with juvenile arthritis now can rate their daily symptoms in a matter of seconds, track their disease over a period of time, and connect with others going through the same experiences using a new mobile app.

The app, Arthritis Tracker, was developed by Versus Arthritis — the largest charity in the U.K. dedicated to supporting people with arthritis — in collaboration with more than 100 young people and health professionals. Versus Arthritis was formed in 2018 following a merger of Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research UK.

“The Arthritis Tracker that young people and Versus Arthritis have created is great – I am actively encouraging young people in my clinic to use it,” Janet McDonagh, MD, a pediatric and adolescent rheumatologist at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, said in a press release.

Arthritis can significantly affect the lives of young people, with most reporting pain, fatigue, poor sleep, and mental health issues. But with restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with young people having trouble explaining their symptoms, it is key that doctors have access to accurate information to help manage the disease effectively.

These young patients also often feel alone in their condition, having no contact with others their age who are experiencing similar symptoms or taking similar medications. For some, that feeling of loneliness has been heightened by the need for self-isolating and social distancing in the wake of the pandemic, with negative impacts on their health.

The newly developed app was designed to address those issues in young people between ages 13 and 25, while also providing trusted information and tips for better managing their condition.

Designed for easy navigation, the app and allows patients to score their daily symptoms — including pain, energy levels, medication side effects, activity levels, sleep, and emotional well-being — by tapping on smiley faces on the screen. Patients are reminded to rate their days, which takes only a few seconds to complete.

They then can access a summary of their symptoms for the previous months, which tells them — and their doctors — how many good or bad days they had for each symptom.

The app “has huge potential to enhance communication between young people and health professionals, allowing us to better understand the impact arthritis is having on the young person’s life and then to treat them more effectively,” said McDonagh.

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the app has even greater potential. It can be difficult to assess young people on the phone so using their app summaries as a prompt or by sharing on email beforehand, it will really help these phone consultations,” she added.

Hope Graham, a 20-year-old with juvenile idiopathic arthritis who had the idea for the app, said it has been a huge help in tracking symptoms.

“I have been in a lot of pain previously, but whenever I go to the doctor, I’ll tend to just say ‘I’m OK, I’m not feeling that bad’, but actually I won’t have been able to walk up the stairs a couple of weeks ago,” she said.

“I will be using the app all the time. Being part of its development and testing has already helped me to ensure I get the treatment I need when I visit my doctor,” Graham added.

Arthritis Tracker also includes an “Info and Tips” section that helps patients to learn how to handle their symptoms and flare-ups, manage stress, and overall reduce the impact of arthritis on their lives. It also provides information to help them manage their condition alongside school or university coursework.

Patients can read stories from other young people with arthritis, talk to others about the disorder, and find information about Versus Arthritis events coming up in the U.K.

“Being able to link up with other young people has completely changed the way I feel about my condition,” Graham said. “I used to feel very alone. I hope that this app helps other young people to become part of a community who are here to support each other.”

The app is available to download for iPhone and Android operating systems. It will continue to be updated with feedback from its users.

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