“There’s an app for that.” The popular tagline of the iPhone commercial was right, in the case of helping people suffering from asthma and allergies.
The use of allergy-targeted apps will likely blossom with the flowers this spring, given that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that one in five Americans has at least one allergy. About eight percent of American adults have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
A multitude of iPhone and Android apps can help these patients learn how to use an inhaler correctly, track their symptoms, pinpoint allergy and asthma triggers, remember to take their medication, and look up contact allergens in common personal care products.
Dr. Melinda M. Rathkopf, a board-certified allergist and immunologist, has developed an expertise in asthma and allergy apps stemming from her personal interest in mobile technology. The specialist in pediatric allergy and immunology, who practices in Anchorage, Alaska, was an early iPhone and iPad adopter.
Rathkopf often uses an iPad app built into her practice’s electronic medical records system to show patients how to use inhalers and injectable epinephrine. Because of her interest in mobile technology, she started giving presentations at allergy and asthma conferences on patient and provider apps.
“It’s really evolved,” Rathkopf told HealthBiz Decoded. “When I first starting using the iPad, it was more of an organizational tool. Then you saw a whole slew of apps to help providers, and now you are seeing much more in patient engagement apps.”
Here are a few of the many asthma and allergy apps that her patients use:
AsthmaMD (iOS) – This app, developed by a pediatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, helps patients manage their asthma by enabling them to log information about their medications, symptoms and asthma attacks in an electronic diary. Patients can also view charts plotting the frequency and severity of attack. Users can send the data to their physician, as well as provide anonymous data on the date and location of their asthma attack sent to a Google database that researchers access to study environmental factors affecting the incidence of asthma.
Asthmapolis (Android/iOS) – This new app is paired with a Bluetooth-enabled GPS sensor attached to an inhaler. The sensor records the location, date and time of an asthma attack and transmits that information to the app, which also tracks air quality for that date and location. This data helps patients identify places and weather conditions that may lead to an asthma attack. The data can also be sent to the patient’s doctor and family using a system compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.
AsthmaSense (Android/iOS) – With this app, asthma patients can log their symptoms in an asthma journal and set up alerts to remind them to take their medication and check their peak flow rates.
Contact Allergen Replacement Database (iOS) – The CARD, developed in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, lists the ingredients in hundreds of personal care products, such as soaps, shampoos, cleansers, facial moisturizers and body lotions. Users can quickly determine if a product contains an ingredient that will cause an allergic skin reaction and look up an alternate product to use.
Future Apps may Communicate, Reward
Many pharmaceutical companies that manufacture allergy and asthma medications have created allergy and asthma management apps, said Rathkopf, but she advises patients that these apps usually include advertisements for that company’s medications.
The next step in asthma and allergy app development, she predicted, will be more apps designed for two-way communication and transmission of data between patients and doctors, although such apps must comply with strict HIPAA laws on patient privacy.
Apps are also being created that reward patients for taking their medication and complying with treatment plans. One developer, she said, is testing an app with which low-compliance patients can earn points for medication adherence and asthma management that can be redeemed for app store certificates and movie tickets.
However, despite the plethora of allergy and asthma apps, comprehensive data is lacking about the effectiveness of these apps in helping patients cope with asthma and allergies.
“Very little is published in the literature,” she said, noting that more data is needed to determine whether these apps are actually helping patients stick with medication regimes and improve management of their symptoms over the long term.