Smart Inhalers are Revolutionizing Asthma and COPD Care
Inhalers have been the cornerstone of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) treatment for years. Now, internet-connected smart inhalers offer a more thorough means of managing respiratory challenges. By incorporating IoT connectivity and sensor technology into these devices, medical professionals can more effectively observe patients’ symptoms and track their responses to specific treatments.
The first smart inhaler was approved by the FDA in 2018, and as the cases of chronic lung conditions have continued to grow, so too has demand for these connected devices. The worldwide industry for smart inhalers is expected to reach US$414.4 million by 2027 and US$1 billion by 2031. Though smart inhalers are more expensive than non-connected models, the benefits gleaned from the data they provide users and their doctors outweigh the costs.
How Do Smart Inhalers Work?
The simplest smart inhalers connect to patients’ phones using Bluetooth, delivering usage data from sensors inside the device. Using an app, patients can see when they last used the inhaler, and sometimes where they were when they used it. Smart inhalers can even track the environmental conditions (such as pollen counts, temperature, and humidity) that accompanied their usage. This data can then be used to help predict whether particular circumstances might trigger an asthma attack or exacerbate COPD symptoms.
The data from these devices is primarily available to the patient themselves, though users will typically have the option to share that data with their doctor. The medical team can then review that data using a dashboard, diagnose changes in a patient’s condition based on how often they’re taking medication and how much they inhale each time, and, in the case of inhalers that measure environmental conditions, see whether there are behavioral changes the patient could make that might lessen the frequency and severity of attacks.
The data helps patients use their inhalers more accurately and as prescribed. This, in turn, can help decrease their symptoms and increase their comfort. Studies have shown that between 70 to 90 percent of asthma and COPD sufferers use their inhalers incorrectly or inconsistently, and smart inhalers can help ensure more compliance. A separate study recently found asthma sufferers show a 15 percent improvement in adherence to their prescribed medication regimen when using these connected devices.
Better compliance with prescribed protocols results in better health outcomes. A 2019 report from the Cleveland Clinic showed COPD patients using IoT-enabled inhalers reduced their number of hospitalizations by 35 percent in the year after they started using the devices. Because asthma affects an estimated 300 million people, while more than 200 million people suffer from COPD, this could have a tremendous effect on overall healthcare costs.
Early testing has shown patients are better able to control their symptoms when they use smart inhalers. The app that tracks data from the devices will remind users that they’ve taken a dose, or that they’re due to take one, and frees up mental space to deal with other emotional and medical aspects of managing a chronic disease.
What’s On The Horizon for Smart Inhalers
Soon, the benefits seen by smart inhaler users may extend to those using traditional inhalers, as well. Manufacturers are working on devices that can be added to existing, non-connected devices to allow them to track use and dosage data. Late last year, the FDA cleared an add-on system that would work with 90 percent of the manual inhalers available on the market right now.
In the UK, advocacy organizations estimate that 90 percent of asthma sufferers would be interested in using a smart inhaler, but the devices are still in clinical trials. They are, however, on the National Health Systems’ long-term plan. These tools for managing chronic disease are currently available in other parts of Europe, while add-on smart devices have already been introduced in India. Finally, market studies suggest the greatest growth in the use of these devices will happen in China between now and 2031.
IoT devices are helping provide smarter healthcare, enabling health monitoring that helps those with access to the technology thrive. By supporting people with asthma and COPD, which is the third leading cause of death in the world, connected inhalers are revolutionizing how doctors care for patients who struggle for breath.
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