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‘Smart’ asthma inhalers have potential to transform care

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The NHS must be prepared for the entry into the UK healthcare system of smart inhalers, which have the potential to transform care for people with asthma, according to a charity report.

Proper planning and rigorous testing will be needed to ensure smart-enabled care pathways deliver the best outcomes for people with asthma and the NHS, according to the report from Asthma UK.

“We need to understand both the opportunities and the pitfalls”

Kay Boycott

The report, called Smart Asthma, outlines both the opportunities and possible pitfalls for the UK at the start of a potential revolution in asthma management.

Smart inhalers are designed to help ensure patients are taking their medication as prescribed, by recording the timing and dosage taken on their smartphone.

The data collected can be used by a clinician to check that prescribed treatment is working and to personalise asthma reviews to focus on root causes of worsening symptoms, as well as to inform early warning systems for when to seek medical attention.

The technology could enable a move away from one-size-fits-all asthma reviews and lead to fewer routine appointments, which could help relieve pressure on the NHS, said the charity report.

The UK market for smart inhalers is “poised” to expand, noted the report, with asthma potentially providing a template for the use of “connected technologies at scale” for a range of conditions.

However, the report cautioned that investment was needed in a significant programme of research and testing to assess the accuracy, cost effectiveness and user experiences of the new technology, as well as the right implementation models to deliver the best care and clinical outcomes.

Asthma UK noted that, while smart inhalers have been shown to be effective in previous studies, there are practical considerations for real-world implementation in the NHS.

In addition, it highlighted that there over 90 conventional inhalers currently on the UK market and patients would need help with switching to the new, more advanced system.

Asthma UK

Kay Boycott

Kay Boycott

Meanwhile, commissioners will need to purchase extra components to make the system work – such as the sensors, cloud services, user mobile apps and clinical support systems – as well as inhalers.

Kay Boycott, chief executive of Asthma UK, says: “The NHS provides the perfect platform to develop, test and commercialise innovation at scale.

“The UK has much to gain from radically redesigning asthma care with new technologies, but much to lose if this is done badly,” she said.

“How we choose to implement asthma digital health in the NHS in the next five years is likely to set the direction for the next 20 to 30 years,” noted Ms Boycott.

She added: “We need to understand both the opportunities and the pitfalls, ensuring the needs and preferences of people with asthma are at the very heart of these important decisions.”

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