Propeller Health expands Air Louisville public health asthma pilot

By Jonah Comstock
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Propeller HealthMadison, Wisconsin-based Propeller Health is expanding its collaboration with the City of Louisville, Kentucky, thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The new program, called Air Louisville will allow the city to collect data from sensors attached to 2,000 asthma inhalers, which can then be used for public health purposes.

Chris Hogg, Propeller Health's chief operating officer, says the program builds on a public-private collaboration Propeller Health (then called Asthmapolis) started with Louisville back in 2012.

"They started this program where some charities and philanthropies in the city paid to collect better data," Hogg told MobiHealthNews. "They did things like put up air quality meters in the city and then also, back then, worked with Propeller to put 300 residents on our sensor to see -- really within the city -- where asthma was happening. That was pretty successful. We were able to put together a bunch of different data sets including our sensor data, to look at correlations and trends of how asthma is impacted by weather, air quality and wind direction, and where roads, traffic and parks and things like that are."

With Air Louisville, Propeller will expand participation from 300 to 2,000 participants, and will focus on getting a diverse research group that represents the different ethnic groups and income levels in the city. In addition to Louisville, Propeller Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, other partners in the collaboration include the Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil, the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, local employer partners like Brown-Forman, local health plans like Passport Health Plan, and local asthma specialty clinics like Family Allergy & Asthma.

"The goals are the same," Hogg said. "We just want to have a bigger population and a very representative citywide population, so we can collect very granular data on where asthma and respiratory disease is happening in the community. We can learn that and also use the data to inform public policy. It’s a very collaborative effort between the city, philanthropy, local and national, and private. And the goal is to make it a self-sustaining program. So the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wanted to start it, but the goal is to show payers in the area that this is a financially stable, ROI-positive program, and it will just keep going."

With more data and a larger sample size, the city is more likely to be able to use the data to shape policy regarding infrastructure and pollution in the city. Propeller Health wants to see the program expanded to additional cities as well.

"We believe in this model," Hogg said. "We saw just in a small pilot that there’s a lot of value to be brought here for cities and employers in these communities. Louisville for us will be the first, but we have plans to roll this type of community-specific program out to other cities as well. Because once you have enough data in a geography and it’s concentrated, you can start doing interesting things. You can start to really understand the pattern with asthma and how it relates to temperature, wind, and air quality. You can start to notify all the residents of Louisville about asthma risk or the things that they might not be aware of, even if they don't have sensors."