Asthmapolis, now Propeller, moves beyond asthma

By Jonah Comstock
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Propeller_RespiratoryManagementPlatformAsthmapolis, the Madison-Wisconsin based smart inhaler company, is changing its name as it moves beyond both asthma treatment and GPS mapping. The company's rebranding as Propeller Health will correspond with a broadening of its offerings to include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a lung condition similar to asthma except more likely to afflict an older population.

"From a commercial standpoint, there's just so much overlap between what we're doing with asthma and what we need to be doing with COPD that it just has made sense in our customers' eyes, so in part we're reacting to that market demand," David Van Sickle, CEO of Propeller Health, told MobiHealthNews.

The name change will coincide with a relaunch of the Asthmapolis app, now called Propeller Health, on the Google Play store and App Store (although only available to patients who are signed up via their health plan or care provider). The new version of the app will have a reworked interface allowing both COPD and asthma patients to make use of it, but will work with the company's existing FDA-cleared sensor. The company will be launching COPD-specific inhaler sensors later on, pending regulatory clearance.

Van Sickle said the approach to COPD is less about geographic mapping, because environment is less of a factor in COPD exacerbations than in asthma attacks. Instead, the focus is on adherence and early warning.

"We know that by getting people more adherent to those we can reduce the rate of exacerbation by about 20 percent," he said. "And then the second thing is monitoring the use of those inhaled drugs that are taken in response to a worsening. You can get four to five days of advance warning of someone who's worsening and about to show up in the emergency room. There's just a lot they can do in those four to five days to intervene medically, to hopefully avert the hospitalization or at the very least shorten the length of stay that might result."

In addition, Van Sickle said the GPS functionality could be helpful psychologically, assuring COPD patients, via anonymized data, that they are not alone in their disease.

"People with chronic diseases can often feel isolated, especially in the case of older folks with COPD. So thinking about how we make people feel at least like they have peers that might be suffering similarly is also part of what we're trying to accomplish," he said.

Asthmapolis has been adopted by a number of providers since its 2010 launch, including Dignity Health in CaliforniaAmerigroup in Florida, and the City of Louisville. More recently, the platform has shown up at the Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers in San Diego and as part of a trial with Qualcomm and Zephyr at Rady Children's Hospital.

Alongside the rebranding announcement, Propeller Health reported that in these early trials, Asthmapolis has been shown to increase medication adherence by 80 percent.

"Early outcomes have been promising," the company wrote in a press release. "In the last month, more than two-thirds of Propeller users with asthma were well-controlled or transitioned to well-controlled; by comparison, only 30-40 percent of the general population with asthma has their disease under control. In recent programs, up to 80 percent of patients with asthma remain engaged with Propeller three to six months after enrollment."

The new name opens up Propeller to pursue a broad range of diseases, and Van Sickle says the company might move into other chronic respiratory diseases like cystic fibrosis as time goes on, and perhaps even move into other diseases.

"For the next year and even 2014, I see us focused on chronic respiratory disease. And we are thinking about that in a very broad sense, to potentially include cystic fibrosis, and we're looking at the global opportunities and are pursuing international regulatory clearance for the system. So that's a lot for us to take on in a year, but whether that ultimately plays out as the full breadth and mission of the company I can't say at this point."