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Electronic Pocket Alarms Don't Help HIV Patients

Study finds reminder alarms don't improve HIV treatment adherence

1 min read
Electronic Pocket Alarms Don't Help HIV Patients

When it comes to chronic diseases like HIV, treatment adherence is paramount. As former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, "Drugs don't work in patients who don't take them." But a study published earlier this week in PLoS Medicine found that it's not always as simple as giving patients an electronic reminder. While counseling improved treatment adherence in newly-diagnosed HIV patients, pocket alarms meant to remind patients to take their medication did not. The results have significant policy implications, particularly in the developing world, where funding for adherence strategies is scarce.

The authors of the PLoS paper point out that HIV treatment adherence in Africa, where they completed their study, is already pretty high (about 80 percent), and that additional spending on adherence programs there may be unwarranted, not to mention a waste of valuable resources.

The pocket alarm used in the study, the ALRT PC200, may be effective in other settings, but experts say forgetfulness is rarely the reason for adherence problems in HIV patients. Instead, they say, HIV patients are more likely to stop their taking their medication because of complex factors, such as depression and stigma, that are better addressed by counseling.

This is not the first study to show that reminder alarms don't always have their intended effect. But that doesn't mean there's no role for these kinds of technologies in treatment adherence programs. In fact, there is evidence that reminder technologies that incorporate positive feedback, such as supportive text messages, can be quite effective at addressing improving HIV treatment adherence. The key, as always, is figuring out which technological approaches work best and why so that money and time aren't wasted on ineffective strategies.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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