Research to improve asthma management

A new study by University of Manchester researchers, published today on World Asthma Day, has looked at the features that people with asthma and healthcare professionals want from an asthma management app (University of Manchester, 2017).

Asthma treatment is currently managed by the use of written plans which help people with asthma work out when to take their medication or seek advice. However, only a quarter of people with asthma receive this and those that do often find it hard to stick to. More than two hundred smartphone apps have been developed, but these are often not informed by the needs of people with asthma or healthcare professional.

The National Review of Asthma Deaths in 2014 concluded that two thirds of asthma deaths were preventable.

The new study from the University of Manchester team incorporates focus group responses and written questionnaires from a hundred and eighty three people with asthma and sixty three healthcare professionals and has evaluated the features that they both find most useful to help inform future designs for apps.

One of the main functions people with asthma wanted from a mobile healthcare (mHealth) app was information on environmental conditions, such as pollen or pollution. They also wanted to be able to collect data that they could show their doctors. Healthcare professionals wanted apps to alert people with asthma when to receive medical help, and to monitor adherence to their medication.

The latest study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, is part of a long-term, EU-funded project called myAirCoach, to develop a useful and accessible mHealth device.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Simpson, from The University of Manchester, said “While smartphones have great potential for helping people manage their health, there has been such an explosion of different apps and devices that patients and professionals don’t know what works best or if the design is up to the job. The idea of myAirCoach is to carefully work with these groups to find the best design and range of functions which help people manage their asthma.”

There are more than three hundred million people with asthma worldwide and 5.4 million in the UK. Asthma is ideally suited for an mHealth approach. If a device or app can be created which is useful for both people with asthma and healthcare professionals it has the potential to save lives, reduce hospital admissions and reduce the use of rescue medication.

The findings support the recommendations of a 2016 Asthma UK report, “Connected asthma: how technology will transform care” to which the research team contributed, that called for asthma to be “a focus and an exemplar for investment in technology-enabled self-management and clinician-led management in primary care.”

Andrew Simpson said “Although patients and health care professionals we asked had differing priorities, there was overwhelming support for the creation of evidence-based mHealth to support asthma management. The challenge is now to find the right design and technology to make this a reality.”

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