People with asthma can use their phones and an app to breathe easier
Asthma attacks happen when tiny particles in the air set off a response in people's bodies. The attacks happen quickly and without warning. The patient's airways in their lungs tighten up so it is harder to breathe.
Now, there is a smarter way to help those with asthma. Bluetooth technology might help people get control of their asthma.
Asthma App Helps Doctors Monitor Patients
Propeller Health is a company in Wisconsin. They want to help those with breathing problems like asthma by pairing medicine with technology. The company has wired an inhaler with a Bluetooth transmitter to communicate with an asthma patient’s smartphone. This sensor activates when the inhaler is pressed and records the exact time and location of the asthma attack on a smartphone app. Doctors can view the information and see not only how frequently the patient suffers attacks, but also figure out the environmental factors that caused the distress.
“We see firsthand the value of collecting data, and so we see this as being the clear future of health care,” said Chris Hogg, the chief of operations at Propeller Health. “This technology helps health care providers prioritize patients. With all the information coming off of the connected devices, doctors can really see who should be focused on.”
Apps Can Also Help Manage Medication
Smart inhalers are part of a new direction in medical technology known as “connected health.” One example is Apple Health, which comes with the operating systems of newer iPhones and collects health information from apps and accessories. People use Apple Health to track what they eat and how much they walk. They can also use their phones to do more complicated things like keep track of insulin levels if they have diabetes. At the same time, medical equipment companies are installing Internet connections on their devices like blood pressure monitors and blood glucose meters.
The Propeller sensor also sets out to manage medication schedules. On average, fewer than 50 percent of asthma patients take their medicine correctly, said Linda Neuhauser. She is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She researches asthma treatments. The Propellor Bluetooth sensor tells whoever is helping you manage your asthma if you took your medicine on time, she said. Taking the medicine correctly helps to prevent attacks and hospitalization.
"We Can Do A Lot To Help Them"
A study conducted by Propeller and Dignity Health, a California hospital system, looked at patients who used the asthma sensor. They found over an 11-month period that asthma-related hospitalizations dropped from 1.9 to 0 among 330 patients. These participants also experienced 60 percent fewer asthma-related emergency room visits.
Another benefit of collecting information from many people is that the company can see if certain areas set off more asthma attacks than others. “There’s a community aspect to collecting data like this. When we have a lot of users in the same town or same region, we can do a lot to help them,” Hogg said. “We start to see hot spots and trends over time.”
One of Propeller’s biggest tests of their system was in Louisville, Kentucky, where they gave 140 asthmatic individuals Bluetooth sensors for their inhalers. They recorded 5,600 uses over two years. The study found that being near railroads and utilities were the two major causes of asthma attacks. However, they also found that public common areas, such as schools and places of worship, were also full of asthma triggers. After the test, Propeller gave the information to the city,
“They’re now making policy changes to improve emissions standards and clean the air," Hogg said.
Bluetooth Sensors Are Expensive
Purchasing a Bluetooth sensor will not be cheap. A standard inhaler with asthma medicine costs $5 to $60. The Propeller Bluetooth sensor, in comparison, costs about $300 each. Also, while most connected health tools can be easily purchased online, the Propeller sensor is only available through a handful of health plans. It is typically prescribed by a doctor.
Air quality monitors are another technological tool in the fight against asthma. One brand, Speck, has been used to research the causes of asthma attacks in the home.
Neuhauser said the Speck monitor measures the quality of the air inside the house. For the first time, people can get feedback about what the air in their house is really like. “Otherwise you just do what you think is good, and you just hope you’re reducing the allergens and irritants that might trigger asthma," she said.