Asthma Inhalers Get Smart

Long gone are the days of tracking asthma symptoms, triggers and medication adherence in a written journal to share with one’s healthcare provider.

Propeller Health has entered the respiratory health management market with a new mobile platform designed to passively measure and monitor when patients take their medications. A combination of mobile applications, sensors that attach to patients’ prescribed asthma inhalers and a comprehensive analytics system help patients keep track of medication use more easily.

“The data can be used to understand the disease better, including how frequently the patient uses a rescue inhaler, what the triggers are and when they happen,” said Chris Hogg, chief operating officer at Propeller Health, based in Madison, Wisc.

Equipping Patients
By helping patients and their physicians better understand and control respiratory disease, the Propeller platform aims to reduce preventable emergency room visits, hospitalizations and unnecessary suffering.

Additionally, the sensor aids patients in identifying their own patterns, which leads to better disease self-management and improved adherence rates. When patients understand the triggers-such as pollen, temperature and humidity levels-that lead to flare ups, they are better equipped to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations.

“One of our goals is to make good software for the providers on the frontlines helping patients manage complex diseases,” Hogg said. “We aim to give them new data to prioritize their patient lists and outreach.”

Hogg reports high satisfaction with the Propeller Health sensor among physicians, respiratory therapists and care coordinators. “It helps them feel more productive and frees up their time to work with more pressing patients,” he observed.

Propeller Health’s CEO and co-founder David Van Sickle is an epidemiologist who studied respiratory disease for many years overseas and while working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Hogg, Van Sickle recognized a lack of data and insight into what was triggering asthma attacks.

While doing postdoctoral work at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Van Sickle first began developing sensors equipped to collect useful data. He eventually spun the concept out of the lab and created the company that recently rebranded as Propeller Health.

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Disease Management
The sensor intends to streamline the data collection process, not to burden patients with extra steps. In order to track this useful data, patients simply pick up their medications from the pharmacy as they normally would and then snap the Propeller sensor onto their inhalers.

“Patients don’t need to change their disease management behaviors to use our sensor,” Hogg explained. “They continue to dose their medications as directed by the physician.”

When a medication is used, the sensor intercepts the signal and collects objective data about symptoms and medication use on the user’s smart phone and on the company’s server. Healthcare providers receive collected data in “dashboards” that can be sorted by various data points. Physicians can ask data-driven questions, based on the particular patient’s information.

“We send an email digest every morning to help providers prioritize their days,” Hogg said. “Physicians can reach out to patients who need help with their treatment plans, and not disturb those who are faring well.” If a user’s status changes from well controlled to poorly controlled, for example, then the patient’s physician is alerted. With the data, more patients in need are seen by their HCPs more often. “The HCPs still see the same number of patients, but the data restructures who is seen and why,” Hogg said.

“Computing platform designed to reduce unnecessary suffering for people with asthma.”

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The data changes the conversation between the HCP and the patient. “The conversation might look like, ‘I can see your adherence has improved, that’s great. Or, I see it’s declined, so how can we change that?’ The result is more efficient and targeted care,” Hogg explained.

Additionally, appointments are often more efficient because the HCP can quickly zero in on the problem at hand because the patient isn’t tasked with remembering the events of the previous day. The data will reveal rescue inhaler use and highlight patterns of overuse, which can predict a significant event before it becomes a real problem.

“Exacerbations are predictable,” Hogg stated. “You can start to see a pattern of more rescue inhaler use, day over day. That generally will happen five days before an event that will land the patient in the hospital.”

Propeller recently broadened its mobile health footprint to include COPD and other chronic respiratory diseases treated with inhaled medications, and is interested in expanding the sensor’s data points. “With all the new data, physicians and providers can understand each user better and help direct patient care,” Hogg said.

Rebecca Mayer Knutsen is a staff writer. Contact:

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