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New iCare App Promises Holistic, Patient-Centered Care Model

Two student researchers working on a affinity diagram for iCare app

Despite the national public health crisis and epidemic surrounding opioid usage and overdose, recovery and treatment programs continue to operate in a fragmented healthcare system. There is nothing in place to facilitate an integrated healthcare experience where medical professionals can automatically view and track a patient’s medical history, or communicate patient updates with other healthcare professionals on addiction treatment teams. 

Take for example, Ben, a person who is in active addiction. When Ben visits his psychiatrist, he is put on a new dose of prescribed medication. The following week, Ben visits subsequent doctors like his oncologist and psychotherapist. They rely on Ben to provide information about his medical updates. Not thinking clearly, Ben states that he has nothing new to report –and his doctors have no way of knowing otherwise. 

“The patient is the person carrying the information over; but they don’t always have the ability to remember medical updates,” explained Eric Nordquist, Clinical Associate Professor at The University of Texas at AustinSchool of Information. “Even if they could remember these details, for various reasons, patients may not be willing to volunteer certain information,” he added.

“Especially when dealing with vulnerable populations like opioid and substance abuse users, it is essential that we improve the way we integrate treatment in medical fields,” said Nordquist. 

One way to address this complex and fast-moving epidemic is to revolutionize treatment and recovery programs by making it possible for healthcare professionals to communicate with each other –so that reliable information about a patient’s medical history can be automatically and directly accessed from a central location. And this is exactly what Principal Investigator Dr. Kasey Claborn of Dell Medical’s Psychiatry Department brought to Nordquist and his students in their Rapid Prototyping class.  

In collaboration with Dr. Claborn’s team, Texas iSchool students initially developed a patient-focused app targeted to prevent overdose from opioids. Last fall, they designed a more clinician-focused app. Called “Project iCare,” this digital platform aims to connect healthcare providers across clinics to provide patients with a more streamlined, holistic healthcare experience. 

“The goal of the iCare app is to improve the referral loop between providers for patients with substance misuse so that a more holistic, patient-centric care model is provided,” explained Nordquist. “We wanted to create a system where medical personnel including mental health and substance use treatment providers could automatically access patient records, medical history, and medical updates in real time, and where they could acquire information about a patient’s care plan from one central place.”

Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the new app automatically eliminates the need for reporting dialogue between doctors and patients, where doctors rely on the patient’s ability to recall –and report prior medical visits and medication updates. “A clinician-to-clinician facing tool, the iCare app adds reliability in accessing information about a patient’s medical history, but it can also facilitate communication directly from one medical professional to another –without having to depend on the patient as information provider,” explained Nordquist. “They [the doctors] would have objective data that’s accessible and available in real time, without forcing the patient to be the point of truth,” he added. 

In addition, with the iCare app facilitating less transaction-based interactions between medical teams and patients, doctors can spend more time with patients on their actual treatment. “The time that’s saved from exchanging medical history details can go towards focusing on the treatment aspect more,” said Nordquist.  

A collaborative effort between Dr. Claborn, Nordquist, and his students, Project iCare promises a more integrated and holistic treatment program for people with substance use and mental health concerns. “This is an app where clinicians can talk to each other,” said Nordquist. “It will be the first ever tool available for clinicians to have a holistic view of their patients’ treatment program,” he added.

The Project iCare team has conducted one-on-one interviews with clinicians and incorporated their feedback into the app’s redesign. The app is currently in development, and will be pilot-tested in April of this year at various local clinics including CommUnity Care and Integral Care. Nordquist believes that the scope of the iCare app will eventually broaden to include the general population. “The goal is to provide a model of holistic and integrated care in the long-term,” he explained.

The Texas iSchool Rapid Prototyping class, which Nordquist teaches each fall, serves as an incubator for cutting-edge topics coming out of Dell Medical, where iSchool students help them develop their ideas into functional concepts using UX techniques. 

What starts at the Texas iSchool is changing the world. And Project iCare is just one example of how Nordquist and his students are making a real-world impact –by revolutionizing how medical teams access critical information about their patients in recovery.