Facebook started out as a way for teens and young adults to keep in touch with friends, share relationship status and post pictures from their latest get-together.
New software developed by a UI Children's Hospital physician and members of the hospital's information systems team will now allow the social media outlet to help young transplant patients keep up to date on their medications.
"Teenagers and young adults do pretty well when it comes to taking their medications initially after a transplant, but the largest number of kidney failures in this age group comes from noncompliance," said Patrick Brophy, MD, director of the Division of Pediatric Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation at UI Children's Hospital.
"They get to feeling better, they start hanging out with their friends and they stop taking their medications," Brophy said. "It's too bad, they're at the time of their lives when they should be out having fun with their friends and instead we're losing a lot of kidneys."
Brophy, who doesn't use Facebook himself, said he got the idea when he was talking to his teenaged son. When he asked his son how to get his peers to remember to take their medication, Brophy said his son advised him to use Facebook.
"It made sense," Brophy said. "We all need to recognize that this is the way of the future."
The application, called Iowa MedMinder, is customized to each patient's circumstances and creates a pop-up box listing all of the medications to be taken that day. The box will appear on their Facebook page, and the patient clicks on the medications that have been taken. That information is then relayed back to the primary physician.
Brophy said the information will be compared to subsequent adherence screenings for drug levels.
"That's how we find out whether the kids are really taking their medications," he said.
Brophy said he hopes to pilot the program this fall with a group of 13- to 21-year-old transplant patients, the group he says is most at-risk for noncompliance.
The information will appear only on each patient's page and not in their "news feed," Brophy said, to keep health information private.
The software was funded through a portion of a grant from Peregrine Charities to the UI Foundation and is supported by the UI Hospitals and Clinics Transplant Center, UI Children's Hospital, and the hospital's information technology team.
The new software is just one way social media and other digital applications are working to create options in health care delivery at UI Hospitals and Clinics.