asthma inhaler

Innovation

GPS Sensors Help Increase Understanding of Breathing Disorders

asthma inhaler

Many asthmatic patients are able to keep their conditions under control by using an inhaler. But thanks to a new technology, an inhaler has the ability to not only deliver a much needed puff of air, but important data to help patients better manage their disease.

Inhalers can help researchers learn more about the disease and how to treat and prevent it.

The FDA-approved technology, developed by Madison, Wisc.-based Propeller Health, is a GPS-enabled sensor that attaches to an inhaler to collect data on the time and place asthma patients experience symptoms.

Using this data, which can be shared with a health care provider, the patient can receive feedback to help understand triggers for attacks and even levels of disease severity.

Inhalers can help researchers learn more about the disease and how to treat and prevent it.

The company, launched as Asthmapolis in 2010, changed its name to Propeller Health in September when it expanded its reach to include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The company sells the sensors to large payers or health systems that want to reduce the negative impact of asthma and COPD while bringing down the cost of caring for those patients.

Every time the inhaler is used, the sensor collects the date, time and location. That information is then sent to a Propeller smartphone app or data hub, where the information is collected for analysis.

Dr. David Van Sickle, co-founder and CEO of Propeller Health, said the system can provide feedback to patients in a variety of ways including text messages, phone calls or emails. Feedback can either be on a weekly basis or in real-time, if needed.

Only one-third of the general asthma population have their disease under control.

For example, if the system detects evidence that the patient needs to seek immediate medical treatment, the patient receives a message on his or her smartphone. The system can also be set up to help providers manage a large panel of patients by identifying those that may need additional support or those who need more personal attention.

Van Sickle, who holds a doctorate in medical anthropology, said data released in September from several pilots that launched last year show the platform yielded an 80 percent improvement in medication adherence across all users. More than two-thirds of Propeller users with asthma were well-controlled or transitioned to well-controlled.

Only one-third of the general asthma population have their disease under control.

There’s a great deal of folklore in Louisville about why the rate of breathing disorders is so high…

As data on individual health benefits roll in, the city of Louisville, Ky., which ranks high among U.S. cities for breathing disorders, is hoping the system will also yield results when it comes to public health research.

There’s a great deal of folklore in Louisville about why the rate of breathing disorders is so high, said Ted Smith, director of economic development and innovation for Louisville.

Smith holds a doctorate in cognitive science and served as senior advisor of innovations and technology transfer at the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. He saw the potential for Propeller Health’s technology to provide actual data that will prove or disprove the folklore and help the city take control of its air quality problem.

With money provided through private donations, the city launched the Asthmapolis Demonstration Project (using Propeller’s original name). The city is handing out the sensors to breathing disorder patients at various locations throughout the city including Walgreen’s pharmacies. The goal of the project is to collect data that can drive smarter public policy, Smith said.

The first batch of data collected in June are now being analyzed, Smith said, but he’s already seeing results that may come as a surprise to many. There is an industrial zone in the city known as “Rubber Zone,” that has a bad reputation as the primary source of the city’s air quality issues.

“For the last 50 years, people have prided themselves on not living anywhere near all that heavy industry,” he said. “It’s interesting that while there are air quality challenges around that industrial corridor, there are also significant breathing disorder issues in some of the most valuable real estate in our community.”

Louisville officials are examining potential stationary pollutants or traffic issues, among other factors, that could be contributing to the problem.

“Ideally there’s less and less of a line between the public health effort and the health care system effort… That means breaking down the lines between clinical care, treatment and public health.”

Smith sees the potential for sensor technology to be used in other areas of research.

“Otherwise public policy and the way cities understand their environment has been shaped by very long-cycle data like unemployment statistics or sort of macro household and census data. These sensors are really changing the game in lots of ways,” said Smith.

Van Sickle said he has seen an increased interest from other municipalities that want to take on projects similar to what Louisville is doing.

“Ideally there’s less and less of a line between the public health effort and the health care system effort,” Van Sickle said. “So, ideally, as we move away from a system based on fee-for-service to sort of a fee-for-quality and outcomes, you’ll see more of the payers and health care providers start to look at these opportunities to not only improve individual outcomes, but to think more broadly and upstream about how you improve outcomes for their whole populations and member groups. That means breaking down the lines between clinical care, treatment and public health.”