Revolutionary health app developed in Westmead Health Precinct to assist in the fight against stroke

Can an app help stop five million Australians from having a stroke?

Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) stroke nurse Associate Professor Caleb Ferguson thinks the answer could be “yes”.

Dr Ferguson and a team of researchers have received $99,538 in funding from the Stroke Foundation to pilot a new gameified-style smartphone learning app in the hope of keeping patients motivated to stay on their medication plans in the fight against stroke.

The app will deliver “short bursts of information” over time in the hopes of teaching people how to properly self-manage their health conditions.
Typically, patients who have left hospital following a health episode are given pamphlets that can easily be misplaced or not stay front of mind. The research is hoping to fix this problem for people at risk of having a stroke, by testing out whether an app can improve on the success rate of traditional paper information packs.

The study is led by Dr Ferguson, a registered nurse who has worked in the area of stroke, prevention and research for 15 years, along with a cross-institutional team from WSLHD, the University of Wollongong and investigators from Royal Melbourne Hospital, University of Technology Sydney, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Sutherland Hospital and The George Institute for Global Health.

The research will focus on those with an irregular heartbeat – atrial fibrillation – which is associated with one-third of all strokes is expected to take 18 months to complete.

“Globally, stroke impacts one in four people, but 80 per cent of these strokes are preventable with screening and detection, treatment optimisation and adherence and persistence to medications the long term is key,” Dr Ferguson said.

“This is the case for strokes associated with AF. They are very preventable but when they occur, can often be severe and cause worse disability than other types of stroke.

We’ve done some design work making education content, working with patients, doctors, nurses and pharmacists to design a new approach to learning that will support their self-management of AF in the long term.”

The learning program is delivered by QStream, an evidence-based platform to support long-term knowledge retention and behaviour change.

Dr Ferguson says previous studies have demonstrated positive changes in medium-long term blood markers for patients with diabetes who use apps like this.

“When it comes to stroke, it’s vital people keep taking blood thinning medications to prevent strokes and further hospitalisation, but that current statistics showed roughly a third of patients were not taking them correctly after six months,” said Dr Ferguson.

“Ultimately, we want to equip and empower our patients with knowledge, reinforce key health messages, ensure the right medication is being taken, and keep people out of the emergency department.

“We see this as a low-cost intervention so that people can help stop stroke in the long term.”