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Patient Centric: How to build an app that solves global issues

A look into how WeGuide, MCRI and philanthropic support empowers digital technology during COVID-19
The World on the Edge

In December 2019, the world as we know it changed. The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped our society in many lasting ways, transforming how we work, travel and shop. It also challenged our access to knowledge, entertainment and healthcare.

Still, adversity opens humans to new opportunities. As health was pushed to the top of the global agenda, researchers, medical facilities and governments all over the world started working relentlessly on impactful solutions to the COVID-19 crisis: creating virtual healthcare platforms, digital apps tracking data and monitoring infection rates, and accelerating vaccine research. Suddenly, we have entered a new era in technology-enabled health innovations.

A $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with other significant Australian-based philanthropy, has allowed the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne to conduct a clinical trial of the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine in the treatment of COVID-19. This century-old tuberculosis vaccine, which may protect the health of thousands of healthcare workers across the globe, is now being trialled in Australia and Europe.

Our digital patient engagement app, WeGuide, helped to make it happen in record time. Here is how.

Empowering Research through Technology

WeGuide is a spin-off company of the award-winning digital health agency, Curve Tomorrow. Both Curve and WeGuide were founded on the belief that technology should serve the greater good. We wanted to transform how patients access and engage with healthcare, and to support the exponential growth of health innovations that help to prevent, cure and manage various medical conditions.

As a leading health-tech provider, we have been creating digital healthcare technology for Australia's key organisations, clinicians and researchers. In the last ten years, we have built more than 20 patient engagement mobile apps that help to identify symptoms, track patients' results and collect data for scientific research. We are proud of our partnerships with organisations like the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), the National Research Institute for Ageing (NARI) and the University of Melbourne (UoM).

Since the pandemic started, it quickly became apparent that the people most affected by the virus are those on the frontlines — our health workers. From small practices to large hospitals, they have been working relentlessly, short on supplies and sleep, stretched to the limits.

MCRI's Infectious Diseases Research Group Leader, Professor Nigel Curtis and his team had clues that the BCG vaccine may be able  to reduce the severity of coronavirus symptoms. Professor Curtis saw an opportunity to test the vaccine with healthcare workers to better protect them, and he knew Curve was the best company to provide technology for this trial.

Supported by the World Health Organisation, the MCRI's trial has now received additional funding of $10m from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This will allow scientists to extend the vaccine to 10,000 healthcare workers across Australia and Europe.

"The BCG vaccine could help protect people from COVID-19. It seems to boost the body’s frontline immune system, enabling it to protect against several different infections," says Professor Curtis, adding that even though BCG is not a cure for coronavirus, it could reduce the time an infected health care worker is unwell, so they recover and can come back to work faster. It may also form an important stop-gap measure for future pandemics, given the long timeframes needed to develop disease-specific vaccines.

"The BCG vaccine could help protect people from COVID-19. It seems to boost the body’s frontline immune system, enabling it to protect against several different infections." - Professor Nigel Curtis, MCRI
Making an App that Works
“The main benefit of the app is its convenience. I can’t imagine how we’d follow thousands of participants and collect their data without WeGuide!”
Kaya Gardiner, BRACE Trial Project Manager

Before the MCRI team started to administer the BCG vaccine in addition to the annual flu vaccination to a sample of 4000 Australian healthcare workers, there was an urgent need for a digital data collection platform that would assist in monitoring the trial's results.

Typically, developers need between 2-6 months to perfect an app as sophisticated as this one. Thanks to the collective efforts and excellent collaboration between the WeGuide team and MCRI researchers, we built this tool in just two and a half weeks. To facilitate the efficient collection of healthcare research data, WeGuide sits on top of the gold-standard research database RedCap. There is a seamless integration to securely pass information from a trial participant's phone into the database.

Our number one goal was to increase the collection of the most precise and accurate data from the participants involved in the BCG COVID-19 vaccine trial.

The BCG App also wanted to address the following key issues:
  • Prevent participant dropout and poor quality data collection through the simple, easy-to-use interface and a set of behavioural prompts to keep users motivated
  • Capture symptoms with real-time tracking and data validation (e.g. collect data points that aren’t possible through retrospective tracking such as daily temperature - people won’t recall temperature from a few days ago)
  • Reduce the need for a manual follow-up from the coordinators with an efficient automated module, notifying them to take nose swabs of at-risk participants within the 24-48 hour recommended time, instead of days later.
  • Give study coordinators the flexibility to design their own app that best fits the requirements of their study
  • Automatically notify study coordinators if someone is not engaging with the trial, so they can be followed up with to avoid drop-out.
  • Increase the number of participants that can partake in the trial, so that thousands can partake, rather than hundreds.
Screenshots of the BCG trial symptom tracker
WeGuide: What’s Next?
“Nowadays in healthcare, having access to data is not enough. Making sure you get the best quality data is key.”
Sanji Kanagalingam, Executive Director of Curve

The WeGuide research app will collects valuable data from 10,000+ participants of Professor Curtis' study, helping to evaluate the effectiveness of the BCG vaccine.

With added multi-language functionality, the app is now expanding into the Netherlands. The Dutch researchers have started enrolling further healthcare workers across 13 sites to take part in the  BCG trial. It is expected to be rolled out to up to 12,000 people globally.

Through this app, healthcare workers who are unwell are tracked on a daily basis for any signs of COVID-19 symptoms. If symptoms are present, participants receive tailored alerts with advice. The app is designed in such  a way that the burden on healthcare workers is as minimal as possible to improve adherence. It will automatically check-in with users when their adherence is likely to drop off and automatically alert the research team when a swab needs to be taken from the healthcare worker.

WeGuide is also developing a COVID-19 symptom screening and monitoring platform for Australian healthcare organisations to help manage their patients and staff. We are currently working with the major metropolitan hospitals across Victoria.

Building on our participation with the leading research organisations to drive change and improve health outcomes, we are adamant that a patient-centric approach within the healthcare ecosystem isn’t just an abstract concept. There is a growing body of research showing that digital platforms have immense power in providing quality healthcare remotely, which reduces healthcare costs, improves patient engagement, increases access and improves health outcomes. The COVID-19 crisis has also shown that patient engagement platforms are invaluable in collecting quality data used for scientific discovery and innovation.

At Curve Tomorrow, we operate at the intersection of health and technology, integrity and flexibility, and we strive to connect people with ideas and evidence-informed strategies on how to drive change and build a better future through health innovation.

An example of how WeGuide can be implemented during COVID-19
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