New technology including so-called “smart inhalers” has the potential to revolutionise routine asthma care and reduce pressure on over-stretched NHS staff, according to a new report.
Published by Asthma UK, the report suggests technology already in existence or in development could save millions by reducing GP appointments and helping patients manage their own condition.
“We need to see a full test plan for smart inhalers and mHealth systems rolled out within the NHS”
Research by the charity found many asthma patients would be happy to use mobile devices to monitor their symptoms and some would swap routine appointments for remote check-ups.
Innovations include smart inhalers, which are linked to a person’s smartphone via Bluetooth and can track their medication use in real time.
A clinical trial in the US saw a 60% improvement in asthma control among those using the devices.
“This kind of technology could help ease pressure on the healthcare system by drastically reducing the number of routine GP appointments required by people with asthma through routine remote monitoring,” said Asthma UK chief executive Kay Boycott.
Technology could also help reduce unnecessary health appointments for those with well-controlled, mild asthma, stated the charity’s report – titled Connected Asthma: technology will transform care.
People could go online or use a phone app to complete a risk assessment, that would help health professionals decide whether they need to see someone in person or perhaps via a video consultation.
Electronic systems could also automatically alert GP practices when patients have an attack and go to A&E or out-of-hours services, helping them intervene sooner and more systematically to prevent future crises.
Overall, Asthma UK said it wanted to see much wider use of “mHealth” systems, which use smartphones to deliver health information and advice.
For example, health apps that relay accurate environmental information to help people take action to avoid attacks.
Personal action plans to help people control their asthma are still mainly delivered in paper form. The charity said this information should be accessible digitally.
“The NHS needs to get serious about technology adoption for asthma to get the basics in place urgently,” added Ms Boycott.
“Paper-free action plans and data sharing can be done right now,” she said. “We also need to see a full test plan for smart inhalers and mHealth systems rolled out within the NHS.”