Asthma UK report calls for smart planning on smart inhaler adoption

09 February 2017

Smart inhalers are poised to enter the UK healthcare system with the potential to transform care for people with asthma, but proper planning and rigorous testing is needed to ensure smart-enabled care pathways deliver the best outcomes for people with asthma and the NHS, says a new report published by Asthma UK. The report, Smart asthma, outlines both the opportunities and possible pitfalls for the UK at the start of a potential revolution in asthma management.

Globally, over 300 million people have asthma, and this number is expected to rise by 100 million by 2025. In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma and there are over 6 million primary care appointments for asthma each year. A recent survey of people with asthma as part of the EU-funded myAirCoach study suggests that three-quarters would already be willing to carry a connected device that could help them better manage the condition through monitoring their inhaler usage.

Smart inhalers are designed to help people with asthma ensure they are taking their medication as prescribed, by recording the timing and dosage taken on their smartphone. The data collected can be used by a clinician to check that prescribed treatment is working and to personalise asthma reviews to focus on root causes of worsening symptoms, as well as to inform early warning systems for when to seek medical attention. This technology could enable a move away from one-size-fits-all asthma reviews, and lead to fewer routine appointments which could help relieve pressure on the NHS.

The market for smart inhalers is poised to expand, says the report, and asthma could provide a template for the use of connected technologies at scale. However, the report identifies the need for investment in a significant programme of research and testing to assess the accuracy, cost effectiveness and user experiences of these new technologies, as well as the right implementation models to deliver the best care and clinical outcomes.

Whilst smart inhalers have been shown to be effective in previous studies, there are practical considerations for real-world implementation in the NHS. With over 90 (non-smart) inhalers currently on the UK market and many people with asthma prescribed at least two, people with asthma will need be able to switch between their treatments and prescriptions seamlessly, without being tied to a particular device or app, or be expected to manage two different systems.

NHS commissioners will no longer be purchasing just medication in the form of inhalers, says the report, but also other components to make the whole system work – such as the sensors, cloud services, user mobile apps and clinical support systems. How these are designed and priced from the start could have far-reaching impacts on how smart inhaler technology is adopted across the NHS, and whether the maximum number of people could potentially benefit.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, says: “The UK is a global leader in academic and commercial research, and the NHS provides the perfect platform to develop, test and commercialise innovation at scale. The UK has much to gain from radically redesigning asthma care with new technologies, but much to lose if this is done badly. This report demonstrates the need for a considered approach that builds the evidence base and sets the stage for successful widespread adoption. We will need sufficient time for testing before we are locked into one system as the default pathway or commissioning option.”

“People with asthma will not want to use devices designed around the needs of clinicians rather than their own lives and are likely to want options on how connected devices are used in their care. It is also important to have transparency in how data is being collected and used, and who is in control of the data being produced.”

“How we choose to implement asthma digital health in the NHS in the next five years is likely to set the direction for the next 20 to 30 years. We need to understand both the opportunities and the pitfalls, ensuring the needs and preferences of people with asthma are at the very heart of these important decisions.”

Asthma UK’s recent report, Connected Asthma: how technology will transform care, outlines how technologies already in existence, including smart inhalers, electronic alerts and digital action plans could be used to completely transform the NHS asthma care pathway by reducing routine GP appointments and enabling people to manage their own condition. 

Notes to editors: 

This report was written by Dr John Blakey from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and by Joseph Clift from Asthma UK. 

For more information or to obtain a copy of the report, please contact the Asthma UK media team on mediaoffice@asthma.org.uk, 020 7786 4949 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).

The Asthma UK Data Portal is a new online tool for journalists to access the latest figures and trends in asthma outcomes across the UK. Information on asthma facts and statistics can also be found on our website.

About Asthma UK

  • In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
  • Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
  • Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.
  • For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk