We believe that as a complex, long-term condition, asthma is ideally-suited for technology-based solutions to be widely introduced. Delivery of care within the NHS could be enhanced, and self-managing a condition such as asthma could become easier and more accurate in between appointments.
How could technology help people with asthma?
All the evidence shows that good care stops asthma attacks, but there are still too many cases where people who are not getting the basic requirements of asthma care have died as a result. For example, less than half of people with asthma receive a personal asthma action plan despite evidence showing someone who uses one is four times less likely to be hospitalised due to their asthma. Technology available today could help to increase these numbers, while also ensuring those at most risk of an asthma attack are identified and given the support they need.
Asthma also has a rich pool of academic evidence how people can effectively self-manage their own asthma, but self-management at scale has so far been difficult to achieve. Technology linked to smart devices aimed at supporting patients (mHealth) could help to support, alert and motivate people to take the self-care actions that ensure they stay well. For example, between 30-70% of people with asthma do not take their asthma medication as prescribed - digital technology could lead to personalised, tailored support to help people take better care of themselves without having to take up lots of additional appointment time.
What technology is already starting to help people with asthma?
Some technologies are already starting to be used in the UK on a small scale. For example, digital asthma action plans are being introduced within some primary care settings, replacing the traditional paper-based approach - allowing people to access their plan online or via their smartphone.
Smart inhalers are also beginning to emerge. These use sensors that can detect when and where inhalers are used, to track a person’s asthma management day-to-day – and offer reminders on when the inhaler needs to be taken. Smart devices could also drive relevant content to people via SMS or email to give people personalised information to help self-manage their asthma based on their use of inhalers, or even alerts about common triggers such as air pollution in the local area.
This is merely the tip of the iceberg for technology’s potential for asthma care. Future innovations could detect when a person’s asthma is worsening – enabling healthcare professionals to offer advice to help prevent an attack. With so much health data now generated across the world, not only in patient records, but also by apps and fitness trackers or digital devices, there is also the potential to gather this anonymous data for research and learn much more about asthma itself.
Our report, Connected asthma, looks at some of these emerging technologies in more detail and explores their potential benefits for people with asthma.
What needs to happen to make effective tech the norm for asthma?
There needs to be more of a focus on embedding quality technology within asthma care – with action aimed both at harnessing existing technology and developing the innovations of the future. Asthma UK is calling for some key first steps:
- Digital asthma action plans
A clear first step should be to give all people with asthma the option of a digital version of their asthma action plan to ensure they are always able to access its vital information on their phone.
- User-centred products
Technology needs to be developed with the user in mind so that innovations are high quality and intuitive. Patients, clinicians, academic researchers and product development experts in the tech industry need to combine their expertise to help create effective technologies to improve the management and self-management of asthma.
- Clear NHS regulation
The NHS also needs to ensure that the process to introduce new digital technologies is simplified while ensuring patient safety. This means improving regulation so that it is effective and clear without creating a barrier to innovation.
- Research investment
Above all, there needs to be more investment into research to develop innovative, new tools for tech-enabled asthma management that work to deliver quality improvements over the long term in a cost-effective way.
What is Asthma UK doing about it?
Asthma UK has been working with leading researchers, policy-makers and healthcare providers across Europe to make tech-enabled asthma management a reality.
We have been working with researchers across Europe as part of the European Asthma Research Innovation Partnership to determine the main priorities for asthma research. We are now working with leading organisations across Europe to secure additional research funding.
We are supporting myAirCoach, a pioneering research project aimed at developing a personalised asthma monitoring system based on the concept of a smart inhaler.
We are also working to encourage other funders to invest and work together to help develop technologies aimed at improving outcomes for people with asthma.
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