Propeller Health Takes Off With Digital Tracker for Asthma

All of the recent household cleaning and holiday decorating can set off an asthma attack, as some sufferers from the disease may have learned over the last month if they’ve been keeping careful daily records of their symptoms.

Many people, however, fail to scrupulously note down each time they reach for their rescue inhalers. That lack of data was frustrating to David Van Sickle, a former epidemiology service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and former academic researcher. Van Sickle knew that patients who understand what triggers their attacks – plants, dusty ornaments, cleaning products, exercise, workplace chemicals – could avoid emergency room visits and hospitalizations,

“You should basically live symptom-free, with current medications,” Van Sickle said.

While still a post-doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Van Sickle started working on a project to harness digital technology that would make symptom diaries easier for patients to keep. In 2010, he and two experienced IT entrepreneurs co-founded the Madison, Wis., based company they originally called Asthmapolis, and recently renamed Propeller Health. The company’s mobile-connected recordkeeping service now covers both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which are often treated with the same medications.

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P style=”LINE-HEIGHT: normal”>The core of the Propeller Health platform is a data-collecting device that snaps onto one end of a medication inhaler. The Propeller sensor takes note every time the user takes a dose of medicine from the inhaler. It stores the time-stamped information, and wirelessly transmits it either to the user’s smart phone or to a Qualcomm base station plugged into the wall at home. When a smart phone is near enough to get the data immediately, its GPS sensor adds the location where the dose was needed. The Propeller platform then searches online sources such as the Weather Channel for possible environmental triggers in the neighborhood, Van Sickle said.

Patients receive individualized messages from Propeller Health, through their own online page, e-mails, text messages, or even snail-mail letters, to help them understand the patterns behind their daily symptoms and use of medications. The system might issue alerts when a patient enters a place where it would be advisable to take a preventive dose of rescue medication, for example.

Users can also opt to share the Propeller data with their doctors and family members. Doctors receive messages when the data suggest that a patient’s illness isn’t well controlled by their current drug regimen. The goal is to make sure patients have the prescriptions they need, and to remind them if they miss a dose. The company’s inhaler device and patient support platform received FDA clearance in July 2012.

“Controller therapy is chronically underprescribed in the US,” Van Sickle says.

But prescribing doctors may be flying blind when their patients keep spotty records, lose their symptom diaries, or inaccurately reconstruct their health histories during their occasional office visits, Van Sickle said. Propeller Health hopes to improve those interactions between patients and doctors, he said.

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