CHARLOTTE – Making sure patients with serious medical conditions, like tuberculosis, take their medicine can often be a challenge.

However, it just got easier for those living in Mecklenburg County.

The county’s public health department is set to become the first in the state to adopt new video technology from Baltimore-based emocha Mobile Health. Using the startup’s video Directly Observed Therapy platform, staff will now be able to monitor patients taking every dose of medicine throughout the course of their tuberculosis (TB) treatment.

“Mecklenburg is a very progressive health department,” Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of emocha Mobile Health, told WRAL TechWire. “They wanted to do it right and dedicate resources, and now they’ve done that. It’s been a great start.”

Mecklenburg County – which includes the cities of Charlotte, Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill, and Pineville – had 34 cases of TB in Mecklenburg County in 2017, the highest in the state. In total, North Carolina experienced 213 TB cases in 2017.

TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease and caused 1.6 million deaths worldwide in 2017.

Sebastian Seiguer and Dr. Bob Bollinger (one of the inventors of the emocha technology from John Hopkins). Source: eMocha.

A dramatization of a patient using the emocha app. Source: emocha.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most effective strategy to ensure medication adherence is Directly Observed Therapy (DOT), which is the practice of watching a patient take every dose of medication.

DOT is the standard of care for TB treatment in the United States, but the practice can be burdensome for both patients and public health departments. When DOT is exclusively in-person, patients need to travel to the public health clinic, or community health workers need to travel to the patient’s home or work for daily appointments for at least six months.

But with emocha’s platform, which was launched in 2014, that changes the landscape.

“We’re focused on changing behavior and helping patients adopt a habit of adherence,” said Seiguer, pointing out that the platform is being used to treat patients with other serious diseases such as diabetes, hepatitis C and opiod abuse disorder, among others. “It’s really the engagement that drives the repeated habit.”

The process is simple: With emocha, patients use a HIPAA-compliant app on their smartphone to video record themselves taking their medication, report side effects and receive medication reminders. Mecklenburg County healthcare workers can then assess data collected on a secure web portal, engaging with patients through the app and intervening quickly in the case of medication nonadherence or reported symptoms and side effects.

An NIH-funded study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers found that emocha saved public health departments approximately $1,400 per patient over a standard six-month tuberculosis regimen when compared to in-person DOT. Additionally, patients using emocha achieved 94 percent medication adherence on average — making its effectiveness comparable to in-person DOT.

“This technology allows us to provide innovative patient-centered care while protecting public health,” Dr. Meg Sullivan, Meckelnburg County Public Health medical director, said in a statement. “In the future, we see opportunities to use technology like emocha’s for patients across a variety of health conditions to ensure that they are supported and successful in treatment.”