Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Implementation of Mobile Health to Improve the Uptake of Hydroxyurea in Patients With Sickle Cell Disease: Mixed Methods Study

JMIR Form Res. 2022 Oct 14;6(10):e41415. doi: 10.2196/41415.


Background: Hydroxyurea therapy is effective for reducing complications related to sickle cell disease (SCD) and is recommended by National Health Lung and Blood Institute care guidelines. However, hydroxyurea is underutilized, and adherence is suboptimal. We wanted to test a multilevel mobile health (mHealth) intervention to increase hydroxyurea adherence among patients and improve prescribing among providers in a multicenter clinical trial. In the first 2 study sites, participants were exposed to the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included disruption to their regular SCD care.

Objective: We aimed to describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the implementation of an mHealth behavioral intervention for improving hydroxyurea adherence among patients with SCD.

Methods: The first 2 sites initiated enrollment 3 months prior to the start of the pandemic (November 2019 to March 2020). During implementation, site A clinics shut down for 2 months and site B clinics shut down for 9 months. We used the reach, effectiveness, adoption, implementation, and maintenance (RE-AIM) framework to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of the intervention. mHealth implementation was assessed based on patients' daily app use. Adherence to hydroxyurea was calculated as the proportion of days covered (PDC) from prescription records over the first 12 and 24 weeks after implementation. A linear model examined the relationship between app usage and PDC change, adjusting for baseline PDC, lockdown duration, and site. We conducted semistructured interviews with patients, health care providers, administrators, and research staff to identify factors associated with mHealth implementation and effectiveness. We used a mixed methods approach to investigate the convergence of qualitative and quantitative findings.

Results: The percentage of patients accessing the app decreased after March 15, 2020 from 86% (n=55) to 70% (n=45). The overall mean PDC increase from baseline to week 12 was 4.5% (P=.32) and to week 24 was 1.5% (P=.70). The mean PDC change was greater at site A (12 weeks: 20.9%; P=.003; 24 weeks: 16.7%; P=.01) than site B (12 weeks: -8.2%; P=.14; 24 weeks: -10.3%; P=.02). After adjustment, PDC change was 13.8% greater in those with increased app use after March 15, 2020. Interview findings indicated that site B's closure during COVID-19 had a greater impact, but almost all patients reported that the InCharge Health app helped support more consistent medication use.

Conclusions: We found significant impacts of the early clinic lockdowns, which reduced implementation of the mHealth intervention and led to reduced patient adherence to hydroxyurea. However, disruptions were lower among participants who experienced shorter clinic lockdowns and were associated with higher hydroxyurea adherence. Investigation of added strategies to mitigate the effects of care interruptions during major emergencies (eg, patient coaching and health navigation) may "insulate" the implementation of interventions to increase medication adherence.

Trial registration: NCT04080167;

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.2196/16319.

Keywords: adherence; hydroxycarbamide; implementation science; self-efficacy; sickle cell anemia.

Associated data