Fragmentation of care can lead to poor treatment adherence in patients with chronic medical conditions which can, in turn, lead to adverse health consequences, poor quality of life, and patient dissatisfaction. Poor treatment adherence may be due to lack of sufficient patient education, time delays in delivery of care, lack of adequate healthcare coordination, or difficulty accessing various healthcare providers across a front desk which serves as a "healthcare bottle-neck". Better efficiency in healthcare delivery, with greater connectivity through knowledgeable and trained peer volunteers and inexpensive cell-phones integrated by a smart telephone exchange may alleviate some of the care and communication burden faced by the healthcare system. Specifically, such community health education volunteers ("peer-buddies") who are experienced in managing their disease condition may be able to impart knowledge and confidence to a recently diagnosed patient in a much more personalized manner than that of a group therapy session. An additional important advantage is the peer-buddy's ability to relate to the patient in a manner consistent with their social, ethnic, and cultural believes without language barriers or differences that may stem from socioeconomic strata. We will use sleep apnea as an example condition to test the effect of a peer-buddy helper (combined with the universal availability of personal cell phones) on the problem of poor care coordination and treatment adherence to the "CPAP" treatment for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a very common condition that affects 7-12% of the US population, and if left untreated, can lead to poor health and even death through its effects on high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and motor vehicle accidents. Fortunately, CPAP therapy can lead to a 3-fold reduction in such consequences, but patient adherence to such CPAP treatment is generally poor. We have recently completed a small study that demonstrated improved usage of CPAP treatment by patients receiving help from a peer-buddy with excellent results. We propose to further enhance the "peer-buddy" community-volunteer concept in our proposed research by combining this with cell-phone technology and a telephone exchange that improves access to healthcare providers, technicians, and home care companies. We hope to show that active community participation by experienced "lay individuals" assisted by the universal availability of cheap cell-phones can improve the reach and effectiveness of our healthcare system in improving the health and well-being of our patients. If successful, such an innovative and community-based approach can be applied to other chronic medical conditions.
University of Arizona