Asthma UK's Connected Asthma report

Routine asthma care set to be revolutionised by digital technologies

16 August 2016

Connected devices, including smart inhalers, are likely to lead to a complete digital health revolution in asthma care, easing rising pressures on the NHS and freeing up care for those who need it most, according to a report released today.

The charity Asthma UK’s report ‘Connected Asthma: how technology will transform care’  reveals 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. Currently asthma accounts for 2-3% of all primary care consultations at a cost of £52 million each year.

Additional research carried out by Asthma UK as part of myAirCoach - a European mobile health innovation project for asthma – has shown support for such innovation. Almost three quarters of people with asthma in the UK would like to see a mobile health device made available that would help them monitor their asthma, and already 1 in 4 of the 5.4 million people with asthma say they would feel comfortable replacing routine check-ups with a mobile health system that monitors their symptoms, despite the fact no such system is available yet.

Kay Boycott, Asthma UK Chief Executive, said: “Digital health tech is likely to be the game changer that transforms current asthma management and the patient-doctor relationship.

We need to see a shift towards supporting greater self-management of asthma and less reliance on overstretched clinical services. People with asthma still want the reassurance of a system backed by the NHS, but the majority would like much more management support via their mobile phone.

“We’re particularly excited by the early promise shown abroad by smart inhalers linked via Bluetooth to a smartphone, tracking use in real-time and building a picture of overall medication use. Emerging data from the USA includes a clinical trial of smart inhalers which saw a 60% improvement in asthma control. Bearing in mind that 85% of asthma patients are being treated in primary care, this kind of technology could help ease pressure on the healthcare system by drastically reducing the number of routine GP appointments required by people with asthma through routine remote monitoring.”

The report also shows there could be a potential safety benefit from new data-rich solutions. High use of reliever medication is a good predictor of someone being at increased risk of hospitalisation or even death. Innovation in health technology and more integrated systems could make it easier for doctors to identify when their patients’ asthma symptoms are worsening and quickly take action to help keep them out of hospital.

Kay adds: “Over 90% of healthcare professionals agree people with asthma would be better at managing their asthma if an mHealth system provided information to support medication adherence and improving inhaler technique. These have been big barriers to improving outcomes ever since the inhaler was introduced. The next generation of sensor and mobile-based technologies gives hope that the number of asthma attacks can be dramatically reduced.

“These changes are long overdue. Every day we spend increasing amounts of time being digitally engaged and we are seeing big investments in technology healthcare, yet personal action plans, which make someone four times less likely to be admitted to hospital, are still delivered in paper form. The NHS needs to get serious about technology adoption for asthma to get the basics in place urgently. Paper-free action plans and data sharing can be done right now. We also need to see a full test plan for smart inhalers and mHealth systems rolled out within the NHS.”

Research has shown that people with asthma and healthcare professionals look for different information and alerts in trying to help control asthma. The findings also indicate people are more wedded to the operating system of their mobile phones than their brand of inhalers. Around 45% of people with asthma would be willing to change the brand of their inhaler to have access to an mHealth system; conversely only 20% of iPhone users and 32% of Android users would be willing to change their operating system to have access.

Kay said: “We need these technologies to be adopted at scale to get the benefits for patients and the system. The findings of our research show the need for genuine co-production in the development of any mHealth solutions between clinicians and the people who will use them every day for the rest of their lives. People with asthma span all ages and lifestyles – they don’t tolerate a one-size fits all approach in other aspects of their life, and mHealth solutions are going to be no different.

“If the UK gets these products right it could also benefit the UK economy. Asthma is rising rapidly globally and set to affect 400 million people worldwide by 2025. It is predicted the global smart inhaler market alone will be worth $3.56 billion by 2024.”  

Policy recommendations from the Connected Asthma report include:  

  • Immediate action should be taken to ensure every person with asthma has an action plan available to them digitally.  
  • Establish an NHS testing programme for smart inhalers and mHealth systems.  
  • NHS bodies should prioritise the full deployment of electronic alerts, allowing GPs to follow up emergency admissions and provide increased support to people over using reliever inhalers.  
  • UK and EU funders should invest greater funding in collaborative asthma research bringing together life sciences and tech companies with academics and people with asthma.  

ENDS  

Top ranked elements of an mHealth asthma system  

 

People with asthma – Top ranked

Health care professionals – Top ranked

Information to help better control

  1. Lung function
  2. Environment
  3. Breathing rate
  4. Sleep quality
  5. Medication adherence
  6. Inhaler technique
  7. Lung function
  8. Environment
 

Helpful alerts for self-management

  1. Lung function is getting worse
  2. Pollen is high
  3. Pollution is high
  4. Inhaler is running low
  5. Inhaler is running low
  6. Using medication too much
  7. Indicate not taken their inhaler
  8. Using inhaler incorrectly
 

For more information 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).

About Asthma UK  

  • 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.
  • Asthma UK is solely funded by public donations
  • The Asthma UK Helpline is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 0300 222 5800.
  • For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk  

Background information on asthma