April 13, 2020 Amid COVID-19 Concerns, App for Patient Support Relieves Overburdened Medical Centers

Treating patients with COVID-19 is taxing the U.S. health care system, which often is experiencing a limited number of hospital beds for patients.  A new app will result in more available beds to meet the increasing need.

The Bridge Mobile App for Burn Patients was developed by an interdisciplinary team at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the Firefighters Burn Center in Memphis, Tennessee. By using this mobile app, newly discharged burn patients receive recovery guidance at home, thus relieving overburdened medical facilities while protecting burn patients from exposure to COVID-19.

actor preparing for demo

The app was created by professors from the UT College of Social Work; Tickle College of Engineering; College of Nursing; College of Education, Health and Human Sciences; and the School of Design in the College of Architecture and Design in collaboration with the burn center.

Cary Staples, professor in the School of Design, collaborated through the school’s App.Farm. In 2015, Staples launched the App.Farm, where students from across UT and faculty from the School of Design research how content learning occurs through digital games and platforms. Among the many apps and virtual reality projects the students and faculty have created is the Bridge Mobile App.

“The pinnacle of the design process is to create tools that can be scaled to help people live better lives,” said Staples. “This project has allowed us to work with thoughtful, caring professionals to design something that can truly make an individual’s life better. It has been a great honor to be a part of this team.”

Developed in 2017, the app is a HIPPA-compliant tool designed to provide essential wound care and other recovery information to discharged burn patients. Automatic messages are sent 1-3 times a day to a patient to remind and encourage them to continue with self-care. The app tracks patient ratings for itch, anxiety, mood and pain, graphing progress that physicians, nurses and patients themselves can monitor.

“The process that was followed for developing, designing and implementing this app could be used for other health applications to reach at-risk populations,” said Thereasa Abrams, assistant professor in the College of Social Work and collaborator on the project. “I would love for this technology to become part of standard of care for discharging burn patients, as well as those being treated as outpatients—that every patient has the opportunity to obtain the necessary information required for proper self-care and treatment at their fingertips.

“The skin protects us from the environment, among many other essential functions,” Abrams said. “The more patients are outside of their own homes, the increased likelihood they will be exposed to pathogens and damage to the recovering tissue.”

Although the app is still being tested, the Firefighters Burn Center was granted permission to immediately begin using it to support patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collaborators on the project include Staples and Abrams as well as Xueping Li, professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the Tickle College of Engineering; Tami Wyatt, associate dean for research in the College of Nursing; Dawn Coe, associate professor in kinesiology, recreation, and sport studies in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences; and Bill Hickerson, medical director at the Firefighters Burn Center.

According to the American Burn Association, about 486,000 burn injuries require medical treatment each year, and an estimated 40,000 of those burn injuries require hospitalization.