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Technology Boosts Respiratory Care

New technology is allowing physicians to provide more personalized respiratory care.

Common conditions such as asthma and COPD require tailored treatment because triggers, symptom severity and patients’ ability to manage their condition varies widely. Inhalers offer a prime example. They have long been a cornerstone in treating respiratory illness, but health care providers must determine which medication and device work best for each patient.  The process can require trial and error.

Now, “smart inhalers” are improving asthma and COPD treatment through data-driven intelligence. 

These innovative devices track patients’ inhaler use throughout the day. Some models even use mobile apps that connect via Bluetooth – aiding data collection by recording timestamps and measuring inhalation. With these details, the smart inhaler can build a patient profile. 

The devices offer health care providers a greater level of precision in gauging patients’ disease experience. “With rescue inhalers, for example, patients who use their inhaler more than once or twice a week may need to have their prescription adjusted,” explained allergist Allen Meadows, MD, of the Alliance for Patient Access, “With prevention inhalers, the biggest concern is adherence.  I see patients using these as prescribed only about 45% of the time.”

In the past, treatment decisions have hinged on conversations with the patient, who may not accurately recall or feel comfortable disclosing their inhaler use.  Relaying use accurately may be particularly challenging for children with asthma or their caretakers.  With accurate and detailed data, however, health care providers can craft individualized treatment plans. A patient-centered approach can shape every aspect of respiratory treatment, including ongoing prescriptions and overall case management. 

A 2019 study by Cleveland Clinic found that COPD-related trips to the hospital dropped from 3.4 to 2.2, on average, with the use of smart inhalers. 

“We prescribe inhaled medications for patients with COPD all the time,” said Umur Hatipoğlu, MD, a Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist. “It’s really the cornerstone of their therapy, and when they return to the clinic we do ask them whether they’re using their medications, but the reality is we never know how adherent patients are objectively. Electronic inhaler monitoring allows us to assess inhaler adherence at the point of care.”

Asthma impacts more than 24 million U.S. patients every year, or one in every 13 Americans, while COPD impacts 16.4 million people.  Technology that can improve communication between patients and health care providers is poised to offer this sizeable patient population better health outcomes and more personalized care. 

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