Over recent years smartphones have become a fundamental component of our daily lives and they are starting to emerge as the center of personalized health management. In addition to the fast communication with healthcare professions and the easy access to medical information on the internet, smartphones currently offer a plethora of specialized health oriented applications. Modern health applications aim to improve users’ long-term health through feedback from a variety of sensors and wearable devices which measure environmental parameters throughout users’ daily activities.
MyAirCoach enables people to participate in the management of their asthma through the development of smart personalized solutions to help people with asthma understand their real-time status and so avoid the risk of exacerbations. At the core of myAirCoach solution is the development of a smart inhaler enhanced with sensors that will provide a better view of the patients’ health and fitness, detect medication usage and measure important environmental conditions.
As a first step for the best design of the MyAirCoach smart-inhaler, we have performed a detailed review of the historical evolution of smart-inhalers starting from their introduction in 1982 up to modern product ideas that are currently in the development process. Another very important objective of our study was to summarize both the medical results and technical characteristics of the reviewed devices and provide in this way a starting point for the discussions among medical researchers and technology developers involved in the project.
The results of our work showed that smart-inhalers that can detect when patients take their medication are proven to be very useful both for patients, clinicians and medical researchers. Patients using such devices follow their action plans and improve their asthma control and overall respiratory health in the long term. Furthermore, such devices allowed medical researchers to study the relations of asthma with social, psychological and clinical parameters and to reach conclusions that are very helpful for the overall understanding of asthma. Moreover, this technology can be further adapted to tackle other chronic respiratory conditions, such as COPD.
When viewed from their technical characteristics, modern smart-inhalers are found to be behind their modern potential and many areas of improvement have been identified. More specifically sensors for measuring the environment conditions such as air temperature, humidity and pollution are considered important for the avoidance of asthma attacks and therefore such functionalities should be considered for inclusion in future inhaler devices. Furthermore, very few of the smart devices have attempted to assess the actual technique of inhaler use and indicate if the required amount of medication actually reaches deep in the patient airways where it is required. Finally, the assessment of activity levels and the measurement of clinical parameters such as breath temperature are commonly neglected despite their strong connection with asthma. Therefore, suggestions are made for the development of such sensors and their attachment to smart inhalers when they are already available (e.g. sensors counting the steps and activity levels of users)
Based on all the above, we consider that the improvement of inhalers with smart functionalities is highly feasible in the modern technological environment and holds the promise to significantly improve the management of asthma.
- The MyAirCoach consortium would like to thank the Advisory Patient Forum of the project for their support in the creation of the current article. The involvement of patients is of fundamental importance in all aspects of MyAirCoach , and as such the dissemination of the project results has so much to gain from the participation of actual patients who know asthma disease better than any one else. Once again, a great thanks to all the involved patients.
- Based on a publication in the Journal of Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery: Kikidis, Dimitrios, Konstantinos Votis, Dimitrios Tzovaras, and Omar S. Usmani. “The Digital Asthma Patient: The History and Future of Inhaler Based Health Monitoring Devices.” Journal of aerosol medicine and pulmonary drug delivery 29, no. 3 (2016): 219-232. (Link)
MyAirCoach view of enhanced sensing capabilities of smart inhalers