Pick up the phone: A post-pandemic look at the potential role of mHealth tools in lupus care

We chat with Dr Claire Tkacz about the future of patient care and the role of mHealth in contributing to a reduction in global disease burden.

By Dr Claire Tkacz.

It’s not news that times are tough. Our healthcare systems have been stretched to their limits - even before they were hit with a global pandemic. Now, in the wake of the aftershocks, the question remains: what is the future of patient care?

In a 2020 report by McKinsey, digital therapeutics were predicted to contribute to a reduction in global disease burden by 6–10% by 2040.1

At VISFO, we are big believers in tech, so it’s exciting to see the power of artificial intelligence, big data and behavioural science gaining traction in the healthcare space.

While we may still have a way to go until 2040, the educational value of mHealth tools has already been demonstrated for patients living with conditions like heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.2,3,4 mHealth apps have also been shown to be powerful vehicles for the delivery of behaviour change interventions and a potential means to improve quality of life,5,6,7 so it’s easy to see why these tools are fast becoming an integral part of how patients and their healthcare professionals (HCPs) manage information, share knowledge, and communicate.8

At VISFO, we have a special interest in the autoimmune disease lupus. Unfortunately, mHealth in this space has a lot of catching up to do. Many of the tools currently available to the lupus community are of poor quality and limited functionality, with only one having evidence of patient involvement in the design process.7,9 Having also spoken with patients about what it’s like living with lupus, and what is wanted in mHealth tech, it’s clear there’s a lack of useful apps on the market when it comes to lupus.

The need for a high-quality, patient-centric mHealth tools for the lupus community was made ever more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the medical and scientific community has begun taking stock of the true impact of the pandemic, here are our key takeaways on what this could mean for the future of lupus care, and beyond.

What we learned from the pandemic.

The pandemic exacerbated the already significant mental health burden of those living with lupus.10

Open channels of patient-physician communication are key to medical security, but current healthcare

Patients need access to credible scientific information and clarity on what this means for them in their day-to-day lives.

The lupus community is a passionate and vocal one – we need to help patients help themselves and each other.

The data.

Between 2020 and 2021, ~40–50% of this patient population suffered some form of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).11,12,13
Patients felt scared, unheard and isolated during the pandemic.

>70% of UK-based autoimmune patients had appointments, treatments and tests cancelled more frequently since the start of the pandemic.14
<30% felt adequately supported during this time,14 and some resorted to self-medication.14

A lack of consistent shielding advice led to significant feelings of abandonment.11
When patients did receive government/NHS messages only around half found them a useful source of information. 11

A French survey found that guidance published by patient organisations was rated as being more reliable than that provided by their lupus specialist or GP.12

How mHealth can provide a solution.

· Telehealth/virtual appointments
·  Community support
·  Resources to support mental resilience

· Telehealth/virtual appointments
· Resources to help patients get the most out of their interactions with physicians

· Access to evidence-based articles
· Accurate summaries of the latest government guidance

· Forums/chat facilities to foster support network creation

The COVID-19 pandemic brought into focus the complex needs of the lupus patient population. Here at VISFO, we believe individuals should feel empowered to take control of their healthcare journey, and that mHealth tools have the power to make this a reality. If developed in the right way, these technologies have the potential to revolutionise how patients interact with HCPs – and each other – and could help ensure continuity of care regardless of what else is happening in the world.


  1. Remes J, et al. Ten innovations that can improve global health. 2020Available at: February 2023).
  2. Yin A, et alJ. Med. Internet Res 2019; 21: e14630.
  3. Jain Y, et al. Cardiovasc. Hematol. Agents Med. Chem 2019; 17: 125–134.
  4. Rowland S, et al. npj Digit. Med 2020; 4: 1–6.
  5. Mateo G F, et al. J. Med. Internet Res 2015; 17: e253.
  6. Wu Y, et al. JMIR mHealth uHealth 2017; 5: e35.
  7. Ramasamy A, et al. Arthritis Research & Therapy 2022; 24: 1–9.
  8. Pan A and Zhao F. Human-Computer Interaction. Interaction in Context 2018; 10902: 173–184.
  9. Dantas LO, et al. Lupus 2020; 29: 144–156.
  10. Zhang L, et al. BMC Psychiatry 2017; 17: 17–30.
  11. Sloan M, et al. Rheumatology Advances in Practice 20215: doi:10.1093/rap/rkab003.
  12. Scherlinger M, et alHealthcare 2022; 10: 330.
  13. Kasturi S, et al. Lupus 2021; 30: 1747–1755.
  14. Sloan M, et al. Rheumatology Advances in Practice 2020; 5: doi:10.1093/rap/rkaa072
Blog author(s)

Claire Tkacz

Senior Medical Writer