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Health tech

CDC details how emocha improved TB treatment in Houston, Puerto Rico

The Johns Hopkins spinout's work in tuberculosis helped keep patients in treatment after Hurricane Harvey, and proved important in containing an outbreak.

Go learn something. (Photo by Flickr user Hamza Butt, used under a Creative Commons license)

A Baltimore startup’s work was behind positive results reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The seperate reports detail how a health IT platform developed by Baltimore-based emocha was successfully used in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and to stop an outbreak in Puerto Rico.
emocha, a Johns Hopkins spinout, has a platform that allows medical professionals to observe patients taking medication remotely via video. One area of early use has been in the treatment of tuberculosis, in which the observation by healthcare workers is required.
One of the areas platform’s initial adopters was Harris County, Texas, which covers the Houston area. In 2017, the health department there utilized the technology in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which struck the Houston area in August, caused the CDC to take note in a report.
Officials said that 59 of the 61 patients using directly observed therapy in didn’t miss a dose.
“During Hurricane Harvey, the high proportion of patients successfully managed through video-enabled DOT demonstrates that video-enabled DOT can help ensure TB treatment completion when regular treatment options have been disrupted by a major storm or other disasters,” the report states.


The report comes as emocha’s use recently expanded into a new Texas county. The recent launch at the Fort Bend County Health & Human Services department marks the fourth such department in Texas to adopt the technology. Galveston and Collins are also among those using the technology, according to emocha CEO Sebastian Seiguer.
Results also came back recently for use of the platform in Puerto Rico. The startup offered its services pro bono at a long-term care facility for mentally ill patients to address a recurrent outbreak of tuberculosis. The facility was in a remote location, making direct observation of medical treatment more difficult. Puerto Rico’s health department faced staffing shortages, and the facility was unable to establish a consistent cell phone signal for use over programs such as Face Time.


Seiguer said emocha first talked to health department officials in November 2016 about using the technology, and deployed it a month later. The team wanted to take it on, and there was a tie as emocha’s Katrina Rios has Puerto Rican heritage and later became a co-author of the report on the results. By May 2017, all 17 of the patients were demonstrating improvements, according to the report. The outbreak was also contained. It came prior to Hurricane Maria struck in September, which Seiguer said could have made treating the outbreak more difficult.
The report also states that the technology also saved 240 hours of staff time, which is the equivalent to 25 percent of a staffer’s workload.
Even as emocha is expanding into opioid treatment, Seiguer said the reports on existing work help validate the startup’s platform.
“What’s proving to be the case across the board is that [directly observed therapy] works and we have a scalable form of DOT which is cost effective,” he said.

Companies: Scene Health

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